Saturday, May 18, 2024

Police dismantle pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ encampment


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Los Angeles, May 2: Police removed barricades and began dismantling a pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ fortified encampment early Thursday at the University of California, Los Angeles, after hundreds of protesters defied orders to leave. Some people were detained, their hands bound with zip ties.
The action came after officers spent hours threatening arrests over loudspeakers if people did not disperse. A crowd of more than 1,000 had gathered on campus, both inside a barricaded tent encampment and outside it, in support. Protesters and police shoved and scuffled as officers encountered resistance.
With police helicopters hovering, the sound of flash-bangs, which produce a bright light and a loud noise to disorient and stun people, pierced the air. Protesters chanted, “Where were you last night?” at the officers, in reference to Tuesday night, when counter-protesters attacked the encampment and the UCLA administration and campus police took hours to respond.
Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century. The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement protesting the Vietnam War.
In the Mideast, Iranian state television carried live images of the police action, as did Qatar’s pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network. Live images of Los Angeles also played across Israeli television networks, as well.
California Highway Patrol officers poured into the campus by the hundreds early Thursday. Wearing face shields and protective vests, they stood with their batons protruding out to separate them from demonstrators, who wore helmets and gas masks and chanted, “You want peace. We want justice.” Police methodically ripped apart the encampment’s barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and trash dumpsters and made an opening toward dozens of tents of demonstrators. Officers also began to pull down canopies and tents.
Demonstrators rebuilt the makeshift barriers around their tents on Wednesday while state and campus police watched.
The law enforcement presence and continued warnings stood in contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers.
Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, though no arrests were made. At least 15 protesters suffered injuries, and the tepid response by authorities drew criticism from political leaders as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.
By Wednesday afternoon, a small city sprang up inside the reenforced encampment, full of hundreds of people and tents on the campus quad. Some protesters said Muslim prayers as the sun set over the campus, while others chanted “we’re not leaving” or passed out goggles and surgical masks. They wore helmets and headscarves, and discussed the best ways to handle pepper spray or tear gas as someone sang over a megaphone.
A few constructed homemade shields out of plywood in case they clashed with police forming skirmish lines elsewhere on the campus. “For rubber bullets, who wants a shield?” a protester called out. Outside the encampment, a crowd of students, alumni and neighbors gathered on campus steps, joining in pro-Palestinian chants. A group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people demonstrated nearby. The crowd grew as the night wore on as more and more officers poured onto campus.
Ray Wiliani, who lives nearby, said he came to UCLA on Wednesday evening to support the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
“We need to take a stand for it,” he said.
“Enough is enough.” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block promised a review of Tuesday night’s events after California Gov Gavin Newsom denounced the delays. The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an “independent review of the university’s planning, its actions and the response by law enforcement.”

Biden says ‘order must prevail’
President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the right to protest but insisted that “order must prevail” as college campuses across the country face unrest over the war in Gaza.
“Dissent is essential for democracy,” he said at the White House. “But dissent must never lead to disorder.” The Democratic president also said the protests have not caused him to reconsider his approach to the war. Biden has occasionally criticised Israel’s conduct but continued to supply it with weapons.
Biden said the campus protests haven’t prompted him to rethink his Middle East policies, and he opposes sending in National Guard.
Republicans have tried to turn scenes of unrest into a campaign cudgel against Democrats.
Tension at colleges and universities has been building for days as some demonstrators refuse to remove encampments and administrators turn to law enforcement to clear them by force, leading to clashes that have seized attention from politicians and the media.
But Biden’s previous public comment came more than a week ago, when he condemned “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”
The White House, which has been peppered with questions by reporters, has gone only slightly further than the president. On Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is “monitoring the situation closely,” and she said some demonstrations had stepped over a line that separated free speech from unlawful behaviour.
“Forcibly taking over a building,” such as what happened at Columbia University in New York, “is not peaceful,” she said. “It’s just not.” (AP)


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