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Biden condemns violence as protests on US campuses over war between Israel and Hamas lead to widespread arrests

US President Joe Biden on Thursday rejected calls from student protesters to change his approach to the war in Gaza, insisting that “order must prevail” as college campuses across the country face a wave of violence, indignation and fear.

“Dissent is essential to democracy,” Biden said at the White House. “But dissent should never lead to disorder.”

Biden’s comments came hours after Los Angeles police removed barricades early Thursday morning at an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The police effort came after officers spent hours threatening arrest over loudspeakers if people did not disperse.

At least 200 people were arrested at UCLA on Thursday, bringing the national total of arrests to more than 2,000 on dozens of college campuses since police cleared an encampment at Columbia University in mid-April, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Demonstrations (and arrests) have occurred in almost every corner of the country. But in the past 24 hours, they have drawn more attention at UCLA, where chaotic scenes unfolded early Thursday as officers in riot gear charged into a crowd of protesters.

  • This week, Cross Country Checkup wants to know: Are protests an effective way to change minds? How do you resolve disputes in your own life surrounding the conflict between Israel and Hamas? Fill out the details in this form and give your opinion.

As police helicopters flew overhead, the sound of stun grenades, which produce bright light and loud noise to disorient and stun people, pierced the air. Protesters chanted “where were you last night?” as the officers approached.

At least 200 people were arrested at UCLA, said Sgt. Alejandro Rubio of the California Highway Patrol, citing data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Biden, speaking from the White House, said there is “no place” on campus for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.

“People have the right to receive an education, the right to earn a degree, the right to walk around campus safely without fear of being attacked,” he said.

WATCH Biden addresses tense scenes on campus this week:

‘Peaceful protest’ is protected in US, but intimidation and violence cannot be tolerated, says Biden

Dissent is “essential” to democracy, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday in remarks about growing pro-Palestinian camps on universities, but added that protests must be peaceful and that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia cannot be tolerated. nor hate speech of any kind.

He largely sidestepped protesters’ demands, which included ending US support for Israeli military operations. When asked after his comments whether the protests would lead him to consider a change of course, Biden responded with a simple “no.”

Biden also said he did not want the National Guard to be deployed on campuses.

The Biden administration has strongly defended Israel’s right to eradicate the Hamas militant group after the October 7 attacks, but has expressed increasing concern about the number of civilian deaths inside Gaza and the provision of humanitarian aid within the territory. .

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or with companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across U.S. campuses, and several have also sprung up in Canada. The ensuing police crackdown echoed decades-old actions against a much broader protest movement opposing the Vietnam War.

They criticize police response at UCLA

The tense standoff at UCLA came one night after violence instigated by pro-Israel counterprotesters broke out in the same area of ​​Royce Quad. The law enforcement presence and continued warnings were in stark contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counterprotesters attacked the pro-Palestinian camp, throwing down traffic cones, firing pepper spray and knocking down barriers.

SEE | On stage at UCLA:

Police advance toward UCLA pro-Palestinian camp

Police have begun making arrests at an encampment on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, where earlier in the day, pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “we are not leaving.”

At least 15 protesters were injured, and authorities’ lukewarm response (no arrests were made) drew criticism from political leaders as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.

“The community needs to feel that the police are protecting them, not allowing others to harm them,” Rebecca Husaini, chief of staff for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said at a news conference on the Los Angeles campus Wednesday.

Speakers at the news conference disputed the university’s version that 15 people were injured and one hospitalized, saying the number of people taken to the hospital was higher.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that “a group of instigators” carried out last night’s attack, but did not provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

“Regardless of how one feels about the camp, this attack on our students, faculty and community members was completely unacceptable,” he said. “It has shaken our campus to the core.”

Several helmeted police officers appear near a tarp enclosure, with large amounts of smoke in the background.
Law enforcement officials clash with protesters as they try to enter the protest camp in support of Palestinians at UCLA early Thursday. (David Swanson/Reuters)

Block promised a review of the night’s events. The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an “independent review of the university’s planning, its actions and the response of authorities.”

Hundreds of arrests in the US

The chaotic scenes at UCLA came after New York police stormed a building occupied by anti-war protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school.

Nationwide demonstrations on the Columbia University campus began on April 17 to protest the humanitarian situation in Gaza, resulting from the Israeli military response to a deadly October 7 attack launched by Hamas and other militants.

About 1,200 people were killed on October 7, including several Canadians, while about 250 people were taken hostage, according to Israeli government counts. Since then, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Strip’s Health Ministry.

Israel and its supporters have called the university protests anti-Semitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such accusations to silence the opposition.

Although some protesters have been caught on camera making anti-Semitic comments or violent threats, protest organizers, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war. .

At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October; it was apparently the first American university to accept such a demand.

WATCH l There are no signs that campus protests are abating:

US Campuses Suffer Clashes, Arrests as Canadian Camps Grow

Following arrests at Columbia University in New York, Los Angeles police appear to be preparing to attack protesters at UCLA. The number of solidarity camps with the Palestinian cause continues to grow as students camped at Montreal’s McGill University say they are not going anywhere.