Students at prestigious Paris university occupy campus building in pro-Palestinian protest

Students at prestigious Paris university occupy campus building in pro-Palestinian protest

PARIS (AP) — Students in Paris inspired by Gaza solidarity encampments at campuses in the United States blocked access to a campus building at a prestigious French university Friday, prompting administrators to move all classes online.

The pro-Palestinian protest kicked off a day of drama at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known as Sciences Po, which counts President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal among its many famous alumni.

Protesters first occupied a central campus building and blocked its entrance with trash cans, wooden platforms and a bicycle. They also gathered at the building’s windows, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans, and hung out Palestinian flags and placards.

Later Friday, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators faced each other in a tense standoff in the street outside the school. Riot police stepped in to separate the opposing groups.

As night fell, a dwindling group of pro-Palestinian protesters refused to budge, ignoring police orders to evacuate the street and warnings of possible arrests. Eventually, demonstrators came out of the building, carrying a large Palestinian flag, to cheers from the protesters who had been supporting them outside. They then started to stream peacefully away from the area, watched by police.

Among protester demands was that Sciences Po sever ties with Israeli schools. In an email to students, Sciences Po administrator Jean Bassères pledged to hold a townhall meeting in the coming week and to suspend some disciplinary proceedings against students. In return, students “committed to no longer disrupting courses, examinations and all other activities of the institution,” the email said.

The Gaza war is sharply divisive in France, which has the largest populations of Muslims and Jews in western Europe. France initially sought to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations after Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel that sparked the war. Antisemitism has surged.

On Wednesday evening, more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters had also occupied a Sciences Po amphitheater. Most agreed to leave after discussions with management but a small group of students remained. They were removed by police later that night, according to French media reports.

The university administration closed all university buildings and moved classes online Friday. It said in a statement it “strongly condemns these student actions which prevent the proper functioning of the institution and penalize Sciences Po students, teachers and employees.”

Louise, a protester, said the students’ actions were inspired by similar demonstrations at New York’s Columbia University and other U.S. campuses.

“But our solidarity remains first and foremost with the Palestinian people,” she said. She spoke on condition that only her first name be used over concerns of repercussions.

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war have been digging in at Columbia University, one of a number of demonstrations roiling campuses from California to Connecticut.

Hundreds of students and even some professors have been arrested across the U.S., sometimes amid struggles with police.

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Barbara Surk contributed from Nice, France.

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