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Police clear UC Irvine camp after pro-Palestinian protesters occupy lecture hall

May 16 (UPI) -- Law enforcement has regained control of a lecture hall seized by pro-Palestinian protesters who escalated their demonstration at the University of California, Irvine, on Wednesday.

The protesters had been encamped on the school's campus since April 29, but at about 2:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, protesters descended upon the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall. The university said a small group had barricaded themselves in the building, which a larger group had surrounded.

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Video of the seizure posted on the Instagram page of activist group Students for Justice in Palestine at UCI shows a banner unfurled down the outside of the building in an attempt to rename it the Alex Odeh Hall.

Odeh was a Palestinian activist and former West Coast director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who was killed during the 1985 bombing of his Santa Ana, Calif., office.

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The protesters -- like many who have encamped themselves at universities across the country in the past few weeks -- are demanding UC Irvine divest from Israel over the Middle Eastern country's war against Hamas in Gaza.

Irvine Police Department officers and Orange County Sheriff's deputies were called in by the school to respond to the swarm of demonstrators, the university said, though a number of other law enforcement departments also responded, including from Newport Beach.

At about 11:30 p.m., UC Irvine announced online that the "police activity has concluded."

The number of arrests made was unknown.

Chancellor Howard Gillman of UC Irvine said in a statement Wednesday night that he was "heartbroken" over the events of the day.

"What a sad day for our university," he said.

He said he was prepared to allow for a peaceful encampment on campus despite it violating school policies, but the demonstrators escalated the situation Wednesday.

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The school have been in talks with the demonstrators to end the encampment, but prior to the seizure of the building they made new demands that Gillman described as an attempt "to dictate that anyone who disagreed with them must conform to their opinions."

Gillman did not expand on what the demands were, but suggested they could amount to censorship of zionist faculty and students.

"They asserted the right to oversee many elements of university operations involving the administration, faculty, students and staff, bypassing customary campus protocols and ignoring the function of the Academic Senate," he said.

"Most importantly, their assault on the academic freedom rights of our faculty and the free speech rights of faculty and students was appalling. One can only imagine the response if people on the other side of these issues established an encampment to force me to censor all anti-Zionist academic and student programming," he continued.

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan defended the protesters from the law enforcement action, stating it was a "shame" free speech protests were being responded to with "violence."

"Taking space on campus or in a building is not a threat to anyone. UCI leadership must do everything they can to avoid creating a violent scenario here. These are your students w/ zero weapons," she said on X.

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Newport Beach Mayor Will O'Neil responded to the comment in defense of his police who participated in clearing out of the lecture hall, calling on her to clarify if she was accusing law enforcement of participating in violence.

"If that's what you meant, then your message is beneath the office of mayor. If it is not, then clarify immediately," he said.

UC Irvine said instruction for Thursday would be held remotely, including for faculty.

Pro-Palestine protesters arrested at Columbia University

New York Police Department officers remove and arrest protesters who occupied the Hamilton Hall building at Columbia University in New York City on April 30, 2024. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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