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Pro-Palestinian protests briefly disrupt University of Michigan graduation

(Reuters) – Pro-Palestinian demonstrators briefly disrupted a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan on Saturday, while demonstrators faced off with police at the University of Virginia, as U.S. colleges brace for more unrest during graduation festivities.

Students across the US have gathered or set up tents at dozens of universities to protest the months-long war in Gaza and call on President Joe Biden, who has backed Israel, to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza. They also demand that their schools be divested from companies that support the Israeli government, such as arms suppliers.

Videos shared on social media showed dozens of students wearing the traditional keffiyeh headdress and graduation caps and waving Palestinian flags as they walked down the center aisle of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to cheers and boos from a crowd of thousands.

The ceremony went ahead and campus police escorted protesters to the back of the stadium, but no arrests were made, said Colleen Mastony, university spokesperson.

“These types of peaceful protests have been taking place during UM commencement ceremonies for decades,” Mastony said in a statement. “The university supports freedom of speech and expression, and university leaders are pleased that today’s commencement was such a proud and triumphant moment.”

The weekend saw more action on American campuses, where contrasting views on Israel’s war in Gaza have erupted in recent weeks, sometimes violently.

Many of the schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called in police to quell the protests.

Tensions rose briefly again on Saturday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. One video shows police in riot gear advancing on an encampment of Pro-Palestinian demonstrators, tying up some demonstrators with zip ties and dragging them across the lawn.

Police have so far arrested more than 2,000 protesters at universities across the country.

The University of Michigan is one of many universities that have changed their security protocols for graduation ceremonies.

The school told Reuters last week that it has trained volunteers on how to minimize disruptions, a change from the usual duties of escorting guests around campus and to their seats.

The anti-war protests have been organized in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which the country launched after an Oct. 7 Hamas attack that Israel says killed 1,200 people. According to Gaza health authorities, Israel has killed more than 34,000 people and destroyed Palestinian territory in retaliation.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Josie Kao)