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Joe Biden says ‘order must prevail’ as Gaza war protests roil US campuses

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“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent,” Biden, who has faced criticism from all sides of the political spectrum over the demonstrations, said in a televised statement from the White House.

Police clash with pro-Palestinian students on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. Photo: AFP

“But neither are we a lawless country. We’re a civil society, and order must prevail,” he added.

He said that the protests have not prompted him to reconsider his approach to the war. The Democratic president has occasionally criticised Israel’s conduct but continued to supply it with weapons.

Biden also said that he did not want the National Guard to be deployed to campuses. Some Republicans have called for sending in troops, an idea with a fraught history.

Four students were shot and killed at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard during protests over the Vietnam war in 1970.

Biden will make his own visit to a college campus on May 19 when he’s scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Morehouse University in Atlanta.

His last previous public comment on the demonstrations came more than a week ago, when he condemned “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians”.

The White House, which has been peppered with questions by reporters, had gone only slightly further than the president.

On Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden was “monitoring the situation closely” and that some demonstrations had stepped over a line that separated free speech from unlawful behaviour.

Police approach demonstrators inside a pro-Palestinian encampment on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. Photo: AP

“Forcibly taking over a building,” such as what happened at Columbia University in New York, “is not peaceful,” she said. “It’s just not.”

Biden has never been much for protests of any kind. His career in elected office began as a county official when he was only 28 years old, and he’s always espoused the political importance of compromise.

As college campuses convulsed with anger over the Vietnam war in 1968, Biden was in law school at Syracuse University.

“I’m not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts,” he said years later. “You know, that’s not me.″

Despite the administration’s criticism of violent college protests and Biden’s refusal to heed demands to cut off US support for Israel, Republicans blame Democrats for the disorder and have used it as a backdrop for press conferences.

“We need the president of the United States to speak to the issue and say this is wrong,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said on Tuesday. “What’s happening on college campuses right now is wrong.”

Johnson visited Columbia University with other members of his caucus last week. House Republicans sparred verbally with protesters while speaking to the media at George Washington University in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Donald Trump, who is running for another term as president, also criticised Biden in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“Biden has to do something,” he said. “Biden is supposed to be the voice of our country, and it’s certainly not much of a voice. It’s a voice that nobody’s heard.”

He repeated his criticisms on Wednesday during a campaign event in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

“The radical extremists and far-left agitators are terrorising college campuses, as you possibly noticed,” Trump said. “And Biden’s nowhere to be found. He hasn’t said anything.”

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

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