Paris police remove students from pro-Palestine sit-in at Sciences Po university

Protesters accuse authorities of 'disproportionate' response to demonstration, as tension rises at campuses around the world

Protesters in support of Palestinians in Gaza are escorted away by police forces during the evacuation of the Sciences Po University, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Paris, France, May 3, 2024.  REUTERS / Benoit Tessier
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Paris police on Friday removed dozens of students staging a pro-Palestine sit-in at Sciences Po university.

About 90 students had been occupying the entrance hall to the research university, mirroring Gaza war protests at universities and colleges around the globe.

Authorities at the Paris university closed its main buildings in response to the sit-in and classes were held remotely. The protest began after interim administrator, Jean Basseres, refused their demands to investigate Science Po's ties with Israeli institutions.

It followed protests at universities in the UK and US, where students camped out on campuses to demand a ceasefire in Israel's war on Gaza.

About 90 students were still inside the Rue Saint-Guillaume site when police arrived.

Bastien, 22, said he was among the protesters brought out in groups of 10 by officers. Another student, Lucas, who is studying for a master's degree, said "some students were dragged and others gripped by the head or shoulders".

Students from the Palestine committee at Sciences Po said they faced a "disproportionate" response from police, who blocked access to the site before moving in. Protesters also complained of a lack of "medical assistance" for seven students who started a hunger strike to show solidarity for people in Gaza.

Almost 100 people had occupied the foyer of the central Paris building, students said.

The previous day, around 100 students occupied a lecture hall at Sciences Po's Lyon campus, while a blockade at a university site in nearby Saint-Etienne was cleared by police on Thursday morning.

The university had given the group 20 minutes to leave before the forcible evacuation on Friday as exams are due to be held on Monday.

"The chief of police deployed law enforcement to evacuate the Sciences Po site," Paris police headquarters said in a statement.

"91 people were removed without incident."

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal's office said such protests would be dealt with using "total rigour", adding that 23 university sites were "evacuated" on Thursday.

Sciences Po is widely considered to be the top political science school in France, with President Emmanuel Macron among its former students. Demonstrations have been held at its sites across the country to protest against the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Protests have been slow to spread to other prominent universities in France, in contrast to the US, where demonstrations at about 40 institutions have at times led to clashes with police and mass arrests.

Demonstrations have so far been more peaceful in France, which is home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the US. France also has one of Europe's largest Muslim communities.

The University of California, Los Angeles, held remote classes on Friday after police cleared a protest camp on the campus and arrested more than 200 people.

In the UK, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said on Thursday that protesters in the country should face “an extremely strict response” if they tried to replicate what she described as “disgusting” scenes in the US, where more than 2,000 students have been arrested amid protests against the Gaza war.

Updated: May 03, 2024, 1:37 PM