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

Police entered Paris’ Sciences Po university on Friday to remove dozens of students who staged a pro-Gaza sit-in in the entrance hall, AFP journalists saw, as protests sparked political debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . Demonstrations have hit educational institutions in several French cities in recent weeks, following the massive protests in Gaza that led to clashes at American universities. A protester at the elite Sciences Po school, who identified himself as a representative of the Palestinian Student Committee named Hicham, said university authorities had given the group 20 minutes to leave before the forced evacuation due to “exams to be held starting Monday.” Paris police headquarters said “91 people were removed without incident,” while Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s office said such protests would be handled with the help of “Science Po interim director Jean Basseres said he was “aware of the significance of this difficult decision and the emotion it could cause,” adding that “several attempts at dialogue did not allow us to avoid it.” The university closed its main buildings on Friday in response to the sit-in and called for remote classes. After the evacuation, about 300 people demonstrated in Pantheon Square, about 1.5 kilometers from the university, in response to a call from student associations. “I am very moved by what is happening in Palestine,” said Mathis, 18, a music student at the nearby Sorbonne University, who asked that his last name not be given. Eric Coquerel, a senior lawmaker for the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, said the “government must accept that young people are mobilizing.” “Instead, they often criminalize, caricaturize or vilify them,” he said. including President Emmanuel Macron, has seen student action at its locations across the country in protest against the war in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The protests slowly spread to other prominent universities, unlike in the United States – where demonstrations around 40 facilities have sometimes resulted in clashes with police and mass arrests. The demonstrations have so far been more peaceful in France, home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States, and 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. The Sciences Po government took the same step for its Paris student base of between 5,000 and 6,000. Protesters had occupied the hall in a “peaceful sit-in” after a debate over the conflict with administrators on Thursday morning that their Palestinian Committee called “disappointing.” Administrator Basseres refused students’ demands to “investigate” Science Po’s ties with Israeli institutions. The latest war in Gaza began after the 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 were seized by militants during their military mission. attack remains in Gaza. The Israeli army says it believes 34 of them are dead. Israel’s brutal retaliatory offensive on Gaza has killed at least 34,622 people in the Palestinian territory, mostly women and children, according to the besieged enclave’s Hamas-led health ministry. A few hundred meters from Sciences Po in central Paris, members of the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) set up a ‘dialogue table’ on Friday. “Jewish students have their place in this dialogue,” said Joann Sfar, a cartoonist invited as a guest speaker. “I understand why students who are outraged by what is happening in the Middle East are radical,” but “I am reassured when I see a ‘human’ dialogue,” he added. PO locations in the French cities of Le Havre, Dijon, Reims and Poitiers have all experienced disruptions, blockages or occupations. Police also removed students from the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Lyon. About 100 students had occupied a lecture hall at Science Po’s branch in the southeastern city late Thursday. Law enforcement officers on Friday removed a dozen students blocking access to a university site in nearby Saint-Etienne. And in the northeastern city of Lille, police broke a student blockade of the ESJ journalism school and deployed outside the nearby Sciences Po building, allowing exams to go ahead, an AFP reporter saw.fmp-slb/tgb/ah/rlp