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Washington police clear pro-Palestinian university encampment

By AFP - May 09,2024 - Last updated at May 09,2024

WASHINGTON — Washington police cleared an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters at George Washington University on Wednesday, authorities said, making several pre-dawn arrests.

Just after 4:00am (08:00), hundreds of officers moved in on a university quad, making arrests and using pepper spray, the student-run GW Hatchet newspaper reported. CNN said around three dozen people were arrested.

The arrests came as Washington, DC's mayor and police chief were expected to testify in front of Congress later in the day about why the encampment — which had entered its second week — had taken so long to clear.

The police department said in a statement that it had tried to "deescalate tensions" without arrests, but that based on "incidents and information, there has been a gradual escalation in the volatility of the protest".

Campus protests across the country have sprung up in recent weeks, with students demonstrating against the war in Gaza and calling on universities to cut direct or indirect financial ties with US weapons manufacturers and Israeli institutions.

Columbia, the epicentre of the demonstrations, on Monday cancelled its main graduation ceremony.

The Ivy League school in New York, where at least 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested last week, cited security concerns as it cancelled the ceremony scheduled for May 15. Students have criticised what they say is a heavy handed response.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden condemned a “ferocious surge” in anti-Semitism in a speech at the Capitol, saying “there’s no place on any campus in America — any place in America — for anti-Semitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

Biden’s administration has tried to walk a fine line between free speech and complaints of intimidation.

Demonstrators — including some Jewish student organisers — have said they denounced acts of anti-Semitism at the sometimes raucous rallies, and accuse their detractors of conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

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