Students continue to maintain a protest encampment at Columbia University in support of Palestinians in New York City on April 28, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

NEW YORK/Paris: Columbia University’s president said on Monday that talks with pro-Palestinian protesters who began camping on the Ivy League campus two weeks ago had failed, and urged them to voluntarily disperse, without saying what would happen if they did not.

President Nemat Minouche Shafik, whose administration was criticized by a campus oversight panel on Friday for its response to the protests, said in a statement that organizers and academic leaders could not reach an agreement that would break a stalemate over the encampment, which the administration says violates university rules.

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She said Columbia would not divest assets that support Israel’s military, a key demand of the protesters, but the school has offered to invest in health and education in Gaza, and to improve the transparency of Columbia’s direct investment holdings, according to Shafik’s statement.

Protesters have vowed to keep their encampment until their three demands are met: divestment, transparency in Columbia’s finances and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined for their part in the protests.

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Shafik has faced an outcry from many students, faculty and outside observers for summoning New York City police to dismantle the encampment, resulting in more than 100 arrests.

Efforts to dismantle the encampment, which students set up again within days of the April 18 police action, have triggered dozens of similar protests at schools from California to Boston.

People pray as pro-Palestinian students protest at an encampment on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 28, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Last week, two deadlines Columbia imposed on protesters to remove their tents slipped without an agreement, citing progress in the talks. It was unclear what the university might do now that it said the talks had been unsuccessful.

Student organisers were not immediately available for comment on Shafik’s statement, and a university spokesperson said administrators would have no further comment.

Protests at Columbia and other US universities continued at full force over the weekend, with more arrests around the country and skirmishes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA on Sunday.

Law enforcement evacuated dozens of demonstrators from the premises of the Sorbonne in Paris after they had set up tents inside. Image Credit: AFP

French police break up pro-Palestinian student protest

In Paris, French police on Monday broke up a student protest demanding an end to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza at one of the country’s best-known universities, an AFP journalist said.

Law enforcement evacuated dozens of demonstrators from the premises of the Sorbonne in Paris after they had set up tents inside.

“We were around 50 people when law enforcement forces came running into the courtyard,” said Remi, a 20-year-old history and geography student who had taken part in the sit-in.

“The evacuation was quite brutal with around 10 people dragged on the ground but no arrests,” said Remi, who did not give his surname for fear of reprisals.

Education authorities earlier said the students had set up 12 tents in the courtyard and hallway of the university, causing exams to be cancelled. One student said they had set up more than 20.

The university said it was closing as no one had been able to enter the university since noon.

Outside the campus, around 150 people had been protesting.

“Gaza, Sorbonne is with you,” some chanted holding a huge Palestinian flag.

“Israel murderer,” cried others.

“We’re here following the call from students at Harvard and Columbia,” said Sorbonne student and activist Lorelia Frejo, referring to similar pro-Palestinian sit-ins in the United States.

The protest at the Sorbonne comes after several such demonstrations at Sciences Po Paris, also one of France’s most prestigious universities.

Police cleared a protest at Sciences Po early on Thursday.

But protesters maintained their sit-in the next day before university management agreed to soon hold an internal debate including on the right to protest.