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US: Tensions mount as college protests escalate, calls for Columbia president’s resignation

Speaker of US House of Representatives Mike Johnson at Columbia University (Photo: Reuters)

Tensions escalate amidst college protests as House Speaker Mike Johnson called for the resignation of Columbia University’s president amid ongoing demonstrations sparked by pro-Palestinian sentiments at major American universities, CNN reported.

Protesters at Columbia University, where demonstrations ignited last week, demand the severance of ties with Israeli academic institutions and complete divestment from entities linked to Israel amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

House Speaker Mike Johnson emphasised the need for order on campus, stating that if the university president cannot restore calm, she should resign. However, student reactions to this call for resignation are varied, with some expressing willingness to continue working with her, as reported by CNN.

At the University of Texas in Austin, over 30 arrests were made during protests, while around 50 protesters were arrested at the University of Southern California following a dispersal order from the police.

Negotiations between Columbia University officials and protesters regarding the clearance of encampments on campus have been described as “unstable” by Esha Karam, managing director of Columbia Daily Spectator, citing student organisers. Talks have been extended for 48 hours, but the outcome remains uncertain.

“We’re about halfway through that extended deadline of 48 hours and we heard from organizers on the student front earlier today in a press conference who told us that the negotiations are ongoing so unstable at the moment,” Karam told CNN.

There’s still around another 24 hours to go until the extended deadline “but really after that, we don’t really know where things are going,” Karam added.

The California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt campus, faces continued closure as protesters, including unidentified non-students, occupy two buildings. School officials have expressed concerns over safety hazards and property damage, with plans to keep the campus closed for an extended period.

Amid clashes between protesters and law enforcement at the University of Texas at Austin, a photographer from Fox 7 was detained and arrested. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported 34 arrests on campus as of 9 pm, as reported by CNN.

Despite mounting pressure, the Columbia University Board of Trustees released a statement affirming their support for President Minouche Shafik, praising her handling of the unrest and commitment to resolving conflicts while upholding campus values.

The board assured their collaboration with President Shafik to address the campus turmoil and rebuild community bonds amidst the ongoing protests, CNN reported.