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Joe Biden denounces violent campus protests after police storm UCLA

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President Joe Biden has denounced violence associated with pro-Palestinian protests at elite universities across the United States, saying that while peaceful protests are protected expression, anarchy will not be tolerated.

In his first public comments since police stormed college camps set up by protesters from New York to Los Angeles, Biden warned protesters that they should not indulge in “acts of chaos” and that he supported law enforcement efforts to restore the order.

“We are a civil society and order must prevail,” Biden said from the White House. “Violent protest is not protected; Peaceful protest is. It is against the law when violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest, it is against the law.”

Scenes of chaos spreading across American universities have highlighted how the war in the Middle East is dividing Democratic voters in an election year. Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont, told CNN on Thursday: “This may be Biden’s Vietnam.”

Biden’s comments came after the University of California, Los Angeles became the latest campus to see police action to break up a student encampment. UCLA had become the scene of violent clashes when a pro-Israel counterdemonstration attempted to dismantle the camp Tuesday night.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Los Angeles police officers in riot gear removed tents and obstacles and detained protesters, leading them with zip ties around their wrists, following unrest that led the university to cancel classes . Officers used “flash blast” devices to disorient people in the crowd, local media reported.

The police raid at UCLA followed similar actions at Columbia University in New York, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. More than 1,600 people have been arrested at 30 universities across the United States since April 18, according to an Associated Press tally.

Biden has been criticized by congressional Republicans for not being more outspoken against the protests, which have forced several universities to cancel graduation ceremonies and move classes online.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, praised police in Los Angeles and New York for their actions at UCLA and Columbia, and blamed “the radical left” for continued campus unrest.

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“This is a left-wing movement, not a right-wing one. The right is not his problem,” Trump said. “These are radical left crazy people. And we have to stop them.”

At the same time, many Democrats and academics have expressed alarm at the heavy hand taken by the police; Most protests on campus have been peaceful, even if several have violated campus rules about camping on university grounds.

Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, had blamed the chaos on “outside agitators.” On Thursday, Columbia said 13 of the 44 people arrested at Hamilton Hall, a campus building whose takeover by protesters sparked the police raid, were not affiliated with the university. Two were Columbia employees, while the rest were undergraduate or graduate students.

Columbia professors separately called for a vote of no confidence against Minouche Shafik, the university’s president, condemning the school’s leadership’s decision to call the police without consulting its own senate.

Columbia University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors said the recent decisions had “irrevocably undermined our confidence” in the administration and were “the culmination of shocking failures in decision-making and judgment over the past seven months.” “.

In brief responses to questions from reporters, Biden said he was not advocating sending the National Guard to break up protests; National Guard troops are controlled by state governors, but can be nationalized in times of crisis. Additionally, Biden said the protests had not caused him to reconsider his policies toward the war between Israel and Hamas.

The president made clear, however, that he believed the protests had gone too far, preventing students from attending classes and causing destruction on several campuses.

“Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, campus closures, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is peaceful protest,” Biden said. “Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent should never lead to disorder or the denial of the rights of others so that students can finish the semester and their college education.”

Student groups across the country have often demanded that their universities divest their funds from companies linked to Israel, but the demonstrations have also sparked incidents of anti-Semitism.

Rutgers University in New Jersey postponed exams that were scheduled to take place Thursday morning “due to the anticipated escalation of protest activities and out of extreme caution for the safety of our students.”

The clashes at UCLA came after two weeks of controversy at the nearby University of Southern California, where administrators canceled a commencement speech by valedictorian Asna Tabassum, a Muslim woman, citing security concerns.