Police arrest protesters at Columbia University, clear occupied building

International |  IANS  | Published :

New York, May 1 (IANS) Police stormed Ivy League Columbia University, the ground zero of nationwide pro-Palestine protests, breaking up the occupation of a building by agitators and arresting scores of them.

University officials, who were under fire for inaction on the agitation, asked the police Tuesday night to clear protesters who took over the administration building after breaking windows to enter it and reinforcing the entrances with furniture and equipment to keep officials out.

The action came as the agitation in support of Palestine veered off into communalism with attacks on and threats to Jewish students based on their religion, with one of the leaders found to have called for "death to Zionists".

Before the police action, New York Mayor Eric Adams said that "professional agitators", who were not students, had infiltrated the protests and were behind the occupation.

Police released videos of people at the university who they said were the "outside agitators" clad in black who had been seen at other agitations in the past creating conditions for clashes with police.

CBS New York TV reported that according to city officials, the wife of a known terrorist was at the protests. (Other media identified the man as Sami Al-Arian who was charged with supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and deported from the US.)

Riot police used special equipment with a ramp to dramatically climb in through windows on a higher floor of the building and used flash grenades, devices that set off spurts of bright lights and explosive sounds but without shrapnels, to stun the agitators.

Police also arrested students who had set up a tent encampment in the university quadrangle and had been ordered by the university to clear out.

Police clashed with students at the campus of local government-run City College, where agitators threw firecrackers, and arrested several people.

The pro-Palestine protests that started at Columbia, where students set up tent encampments, have spread like wildfire to scores of campuses across the country.

The students are demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, an end to US support for Israel, universities cut off ties to Israel, and dump investments in companies making weapons or have ties to that nation.

Several hundred students and faculty have been arrested during the protests coast to coast, with some of the confrontations turning violent.

Many universities have switched to remote learning, and in some cases locking out students from campuses, adversely affecting them as these are the final weeks of the academic year.

Republicans, led by Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House of Representatives, have demanded stern action by the eaderships of universities against the protestors and called for deploying the National Guard.

Johnson visited Columbia last week and demanded the resignation of its president - Nemat Minouche Shafik who took over the job last year after having led the London School of Economics.

Two weeks ago, she called in the police to oust the tent encampment, but within a day, the protesters returned.

Criticised by the faculty association for the action, she tried to hold discussions with the students for a peaceful end to the protests.

But it failed and a deadline was given for them to shut down the encampment by Monday afternoon, after which the agitators took over the administration building escalating the confrontation.

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