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Article: California police flatten pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA, arrest protesters

California police flatten pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA, arrest protesters

California police flatten pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA, arrest protesters

PHOTO CAPTION: Law enforcement officers detain a demonstrator, as they clear out the protest encampment in support of Palestinians at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 2, 2024. REUTERS/David Swanson




By Lisa Richwine and Omar Younis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Hundreds of helmeted police swarmed the site of a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California at Los Angeles early on Thursday, firing flash bangs, arresting defiant demonstrators and dismantling their encampment.

The pre-dawn police crackdown at UCLA marked the latest flashpoint in mounting tensions on U.S. college campuses, where protests over Israel's war in Gaza have led to student clashes with each other and with law enforcement.

"I'm a student here. I'm an English major," one student said to television cameras, as police dragged him away. "Please don't fail us. Don't fail us."

Prior to moving in, police urged demonstrators in repeated loudspeaker announcements to clear the protest zone, which occupied a central plaza about the size of a football field.

After massing around the campus for hours, officers eventually moved through the area in lines holding batons as protesters - some in white helmets - linked arms, attempting to block their advance.

Live TV footage showed officers taking down tents, tearing apart barricades and removing the encampment, while arrested protesters sat with their hands restrained behind their backs with zip-ties.

Students have rallied or set up tent encampments at dozens of schools in recent days, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and demanding schools divest from companies that support Israel's government. Many of the schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called in police to quell the protests.


At UCLA, dozens of loud explosions were heard during the clash from flash bangs, or stun grenades, fired by police as the moved into the camp in the early morning hours.

Demonstrators, some carrying makeshift shields and umbrellas, sought to block the officers' advance by sheer numbers, while chanting "push them back" and flashing bright lights in the eyes of the police.

Others on the opposite side of the camp gave up quickly, and were seen walking away with their hands over their heads under police escort.

Local television station KABC-TV estimated 300 to 500 protesters had been hunkered down inside the camp, many wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, while around 2,000 more had gathered outside the barricades in support.

Those numbers dwindled on Thursday as protesters left the camp and were arrested.

Some of the protesters had been seen donning hard hats, goggles and respirator masks in anticipation of the siege a day after the university declared the encampment unlawful.

By sunrise, the plaza was strewn with detritus from the destroyed encampment: tents, blankets, food containers, a Palestinian flag, an upturned helmet. A line of officers carrying batons stood at the plaza's edge, while a small group of remaining protesters shouted chants at them nearby.

The protests follow the deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip, which killed 1,200 people and saw dozens taken hostage, and an ensuing Israeli offensive that has killed about 34,000 and created a humanitarian crisis.

Protesters have called on President Joe Biden, who has steadfastly supported Israel's right to defend itself, to do more to stop the bloodshed and ease the humanitarian crisis.

The campus demonstrations have been met with counter-protesters accusing them of fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. The pro-Palestinian side, including some Jews opposed to Israeli actions in Gaza, say they are being unfairly branded as antisemitic for criticizing Israel's government and expressing support for human rights.

The issue has taken on political overtones in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November, with Republicans accusing some university administrators of turning a blind eye to antisemitism.


UCLA had canceled classes for the day on Wednesday following a violent clash between the encampment's occupants and a group of masked counter-demonstrators who mounted a surprise assault late Tuesday night on the tent city.

The occupants of the camp, set up last week, had remained mostly peaceful before the melee, in which both sides traded blows and doused each other with pepper spray.

Members of the pro-Palestinian group said fireworks were thrown at them and they were beaten with bats and sticks. University officials blamed the disturbance on "instigators" and vowed an investigation.

The confrontation went on for two or three hours into early Wednesday morning before police restored order. A spokesperson for California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, later criticized the "limited and delayed campus law enforcement response" to the unrest as "unacceptable".

Taylor Gee, a 30-year-old pro-Palestinian protester and UCLA law student, said the police operation on Thursday felt "especially galling" to many protesters given the slow police response a night earlier.

"For them to come out the next night to remove us from the encampment, it doesn't make any sense, but it also makes all the sense in the world," he said.

UCLA officials said the campus, with nearly 52,000 students, would remain shuttered except for limited operations on Thursday and Friday.

The police action at UCLA came after police in New York City on Tuesday arrested pro-Palestinian activists who occupied a building at Columbia University and removed a tent city from the campus of the Ivy League school.

Police arrested about 300 people at Columbia and City College of New York, Mayor Eric Adams said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Omar Younis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks, Nichola Groom, Maria Tsvetkova, David Swanson, Jonathan Allen, Brendan O'Brien, Rich McKay and Dan Trotta; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Caitlin Webber, Lincoln Feast, Michael Perry and Alex Richardson)



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