Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Police clear pro-Gaza sit-in at top Paris university

Police clear pro-Gaza sit-in at top Paris university
May 3, 2024 Web Desk

PARIS (AFP) - Police entered Paris' Sciences Po university on Friday to remove dozens of students staging a pro-Gaza sit-in in the entrance hall, AFP journalists saw, as protests fire political debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One student told reporters "around 50 students were still inside the rue Saint-Guillaume site" when police entered. Bastien, 22, told AFP he and other protesters had been peacefully brought out in groups of 10 by officers. Another, Lucas, studying for a master's degree, said "some students were dragged and others gripped by the head or shoulders".

Administrators had closed Sciences Po's main buildings on Friday in response to the sit-in and called for remote classes instead. They said "around 70 to 80 people" were occupying the foyer of the central Paris building. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal's office said such protests would be dealt with using "total rigour", adding that 23 university sites had been "evacuated" on Thursday.

Students from the university's Palestine Committee had earlier told reporters they faced a "disproportionate" response from police, who had blocked access to the site before moving in. They also complained of a lack of "medical assistance" for seven students who had started a hunger strike "in solidarity with Palestinian victims".

'Disappointing' 

Sciences Po, widely considered France's top political science school, with alumni including President Emmanuel Macron, has seen student action at its at sites across the country in protest against the war in Gaza and the ensuing humanitarian crisis. Protests have been slow to spread to other prominent universities, unlike in the United States -- where demonstrations at around 40 facilities have at times spiralled into clashes with police and mass arrests.

But demonstrations have so far been more peaceful in France, home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the US, and to Europe's largest Muslim community. The University of California, Los Angeles, announced that Friday's classes would be held remotely after police cleared a protest camp there and arrested more than 200 people.

Sciences Po administration took the same step for its Paris student body of between 5,000 and 6,000. Protesters occupied the entrance hall in a "peaceful sit-in" following a debate on the Middle East with administrators on Thursday morning that their Palestine Committee dubbed "disappointing".

The university's interim administrator, Jean Basseres, refused student demands to "investigate" Science Po's ties with Israeli institutions.

'Not true you can't talk' 

The war in Gaza began after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Israel estimates that 129 hostages seized by militants during their attack remain in Gaza. The Israeli military says it believes 34 of them are dead.

Israel's relentless retaliatory offensive on Gaza has killed at least 34,596 people in the Palestinian territory, mostly women and children, according to the besieged enclave's Hamas-run health ministry. Outside the Sorbonne University, a few hundred metres (yards) from Sciences Po in central Paris, members of the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) were setting up a "dialogue table" on Friday.

"We want to prove that it's not true that you can't talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," UEJF president Samuel Lejoyeux told broadcaster Radio J. "To do that, we have to sideline those who single out Jewish students as complicit in genocide," he added. In the northeastern city of Lille, the ESJ journalism school was blocked off, an AFP reporter saw.

Students at the city's nearby branch of Sciences Po had their identities checked before they were allowed in via a back entrance to sit exams. Around 100 students had occupied a lecture hall at Science Po's Lyon branch late on Thursday, while a blockade at a university site in nearby Saint-Etienne was cleared on Thursday morning by police.