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41 arrested in UC Berkeley protest

Fee hike and budget cuts trigger the occupation of Wheeler Hall.

November 21, 2009|By Catherine Saillant

A daylong occupation of a classroom building at UC Berkeley on Friday ended with the arrests of 41 students who had barricaded themselves inside to protest budget cuts and steep hikes in student fees, university officials said.

Campus police entered Wheeler Hall about 5 p.m., and the demonstrators were taken into custody without incident, campus officials said in a statement. The protesters were charged with trespassing and released, the statement said.

The arrests ended a day of tumult that began before dawn when the students took over classrooms on the second floor and locked four exits. They unfurled a banner that read "32 Percent Hike, 900 Layoffs."

A rally outside Wheeler grew throughout the day, said Maggie Wheeler, a freshman at the campus. By early evening, hundreds of students and union activists were shouting slogans and banging on drums, Wheeler said.

Dozens of campus police in riot helmets were watching the crowds but didn't move against the barricaded students until late in the day, she said.

Campus officials said an attempt at negotiation was made but their efforts "were refused."

Three students were arrested earlier in the day and no injuries were reported, said Emily Strange, a media relations assistant.

Puck Lo, 29, one of the students inside the locked room, disputed the university's contention that the demonstrators refused to negotiate. Students were demanding that 38 custodians who lost their jobs be reinstated and that the protesters be given amnesty, Lo said.

"This is not a slumber party," Lo, a graduate journalism student, said in a phone interview before the arrests. "This strike is really inconvenient. We are looking at finals and an increased workload. But this seems the honorable thing to do for future students."

Student anger erupted earlier this week after a 32% fee increase was approved by the UC Board of Regents on Thursday. The hikes will add $2,500 to undergraduate fees by next fall, bringing basic annual fees to $10,302. Room, board and books can add $16,000.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau canceled classes and advised teachers and students to stay away from the building. In an e-mail to students, he said campus police and administrators were working to resolve the faceoff peacefully.

Student protests have erupted at other UC campuses in recent days. Thousands at UCLA, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz have held mostly peaceful rallies and demonstrations.


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