May 17th, 2024

Police break up a pro-Palestinian student protest in Berlin as demonstrations spread across Europe

By Mike Corder, Barbara Surk And Pietro De Cristofaro, The Associated Press on May 7, 2024.

AMSTERDAM (AP) – German police on Tuesday broke up a protest by several hundred pro-Palestinian activists who had occupied a courtyard at Berlin’s Free University earlier in the day, the latest such action by authorities as protests that have roiled campuses in the United States spread across Europe.

The protesters had put up about 20 tents and formed a human chain around the tents. Most had covered their faces with medical masks and had draped kufiyah scarves around their heads, shouting slogans such as “Viva, viva Palestina.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Dutch police arrested about 125 activists as they broke up a similar pro-Palestinian demonstration camp at the University of Amsterdam.

In Berlin, police called on the students via loudspeakers to leave the campus. Police could also be seen carrying some students away and some scuffles erupted between police officers and protesters. The school’s administrators said in a statement that the protesters had rejected any kind of dialogue and they had therefore called in police to clear the campus.

“This form of protest is not geared towards dialog. An occupation is not acceptable on the FU Berlin campus,” university president Guenter Ziegler said. “We are available for academic dialog – but not in this way.”

The administrators said some protesters attempted to enter rooms and lecture halls at Free University in order to occupy them. The protest organizers, which say they are made up of students from various Berlin universities and other individuals, had called on other students and professors to take part in the action, the university statement said.

In recent days, students have held protests or set up encampments in Finland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and Britain, following earlier protests at U.S. campuses.

Amsterdam police said on the social media platform X that their action was “necessary to restore order” after protests turned violent. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Video from the scene aired by national broadcaster NOS shows police using a mechanical digger to push down barricades and officers with batons and shields moving in, beating some of the protesters and pulling down tents. Protesters had formed barricades from wooden pallets and bicycles, NOS reported.

The demonstrators occupied a small island at the university son Monday, calling for a break in academic ties with Israel over the war in Gaza.

After clearing the Amsterdam protest by early afternoon Tuesday, police closed off the area by metal fences. Students sat along the banks of a nearby canal. The school said in a statement that police ended the demonstration at its Roeterseiland campus overnight Tuesday “due to public order and safety concerns.”

“The war between Israel and Hamas is having a major impact on individual students and staff,” it said. “We share the anger and bewilderment over the war, and we understand that there are protests over it. We stress that within the university, dialogue about it is the only answer.”

In Finland, dozens of protesters from the Students for Palestine solidarity group set up an encampment outside the main building at the University of Helsinki, saying they would stay there until the university, which is Finland’s largest academic institution, cuts academic ties with Israeli universities.

In Denmark, students set up a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Copenhagen, erecting about 45 tents outside the campus of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The university said students can protest but called on them to respect the rules on campus grounds.

“Seek dialogue, not conflict and make room for perspectives other than your own,” the administrators said on X.

The administration “cannot and must not express an opinion on behalf of university employees and students about political matters, including about the ongoing conflict” in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the statement said.

On their Facebook page, members of the activist group Students Against the Occupation said their attempts to talk to the administration over the past two years about withdrawing the school’s investments from companies with ties to activities in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories have been in vain.

“We can no longer be satisfied with cautious dialogue that does not lead to concrete action,” the group said.

In Italy, students at the University of Bologna, one of the world’s oldest universities, set up a tent encampment over the weekend to demand an end to the war in Gaza as Israel prepared an offensive in Rafah, despite pleas from its Western allies against it. Groups of students organized similar protests in Rome and Naples, which were largely peaceful.

More than a dozen tents were set up in a piazza named for a university student who fought against fascist rule during World War II. Some were decorated with Palestinian flags and a banner read “Student Intefadeh,” or “Student Uprising.”

In Spain, dozens of students have spent over a week at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of Valencia campus. Similar camps were set up Monday at the University of Barcelona and at the University of the Basque Country. A group representing students at Madrid’s public universities announced it would step up protests against the war in the coming days.

In Paris, student groups called for gatherings in solidarity with Palestinians later Tuesday.

On Friday, French police peacefully removed dozens of students from a building at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known as Sciences Po, after they had gathered in support of Palestinians.

On Tuesday, students at the prestigious institution, which counts French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and President Emmanuel Macron among its alumni, were seen entering the campus unobstructed to take exams as police stood at the entrances.

Protests took place last week at some other universities in France, including in Lille and Lyon. Macron’s office said police had been requested to remove students from 23 sites on French campuses.

___

Surk reported from Nice, France, and De Cristofaro from Berlin. Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Joe Wilson in Barcelona, Spain; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, contributed to this report.

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