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Students launch fresh wave of pro-Palestine protests

Protests were due to take place in at least six universities on Wednesday, including Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle, with others expected to follow suit, in a show of solidarity with Palestinians…reports Asian Lite News

A fresh wave of student demonstrations and encampments are under way at UK universities in protest over the war in Gaza after violent scenes on campuses in the US, where hundreds have been arrested in a crackdown by police.

Protests were due to take place in at least six universities on Wednesday, including Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle, with others expected to follow suit, in a show of solidarity with Palestinians.

Students are also calling for their individual universities to divest from firms that supply arms to Israel and in some cases sever links with universities in Israel.

While the focus of the protest movement in the UK in recent months has been on mass marches in London and other cities, students occupied university buildings and held demonstrations, which have been on a smaller scale and have attracted less attention.

However, violent scenes from Columbia University and other US campuses over the past few days, broadcast across the world’s media, have triggered renewed anger among UK students and a sense of shared solidarity.

David Maguire, the vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), said protests at UK universities had been generally peaceful but agreed that events like those in the US “could happen here”.

In Sheffield, a group called the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine, a coalition of “staff, students, and alumni” from the universities of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam, began an encampment in solidarity with Palestinians.

The SCCP said there had been a mass walkout from lectures, followed by a demonstration, and that many students were prepared to camp “indefinitely” in tents outside the student union. This followed an encampment at the University of Warwick, which began last week.

“We’ve come prepared for the South Yorkshire weather,” said one research student taking part in the protest. “We’ve got gazebos and picnic tables and a generator for power. We’ll stay indefinitely until the university meets our demands.”

In Newcastle, an organisation called Newcastle Apartheid off Campus said more than 40 students were taking part in an encampment and that a day of events and a rally was planned for 5pm on Wednesday.

Organisers said students were outraged after the university apparently signed a partnership with Leonardo SpA, a defence and security company that they claim is responsible for producing the laser targeting system for the Israel Defense Forces’ F-35 fighter jets being used in the war in Gaza.

“Although the student union has passed motions with 95% of people in favour of calling for the university to end its ties with Leonardo, and multiple ‘Leonardo off Campus’ protests on its campus, it is clear that the university has not listened to students’ concerns,” a statement said. The university was contacted for comment.

The University of York, meanwhile, announced in a statement that it “no longer holds investments in companies that primarily make or sell weapons and defence-related products or services”. This followed prolonged pressure and protests from students and staff since the beginning of the war in Gaza.

In Leeds, there was a May Day student walkout for Palestine, and in Bristol, university students established an encampment in Royal Fort Gardens opposite Senate House.

This latest wave of action builds on earlier protests, which included student occupations of university buildings at the University of Manchester, Goldsmiths and at UCL.

In Manchester, protesters said 50 students had set up camp, demanding that the university end its partnership with BAE Systems and other arms companies, cut its ties with Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and stop all “unethical research”.

One first-year student said the US protests had highlighted “now is the time to act”. He said: “The courage that those students have shown faced with extreme violence from the police – it’s like a call that needs to be answered and picked up across the world.”

Patrick Hackett, Manchester University’s registrar, secretary and chief operating officer, said it recognised the right of students and staff to protest within the law, but added that setting up camp in a city campus posed potential health and safety concerns “and ultimately is an unauthorised and unlawful use of the university’s campus”.

He added: “You can be assured that we will do everything possible to maintain business as usual and we urge protesters to act accordingly. We are very conscious of the need to ensure that everyone on our campus remains safe and secure and this will be of utmost importance.”

University vice-chancellors in the UK have been keeping a close eye on events on their own campuses and overseas, meeting regularly to discuss developments. Asked on BBC Radio 4 whether the scenes on campuses in North America could be replicated in the UK, the UEA’s Maguire said: “Of course it could happen here.

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