President Joe Biden has spoken out for the first time following violence and arrests during demonstrations at multiple US universities, saying: “There is a right to protest but not a right to cause chaos.”

Tensions at universities across America have been building for days as demonstrators have refused to remove encampments and administrators have called in law enforcement to break them up.

There have been clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and counter-protesters, as well as between demonstrators and police.

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Police attempt to disperse UCLA students

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Police make arrests at UCLA protest

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden said events at the universities “put to the test two fundamental American principles, the first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble, the second is the rule of law”.

“Both must be upheld”, the president continued. “We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people and squash dissent. But neither are we a lawless country. We’re a civil society. And order must prevail.”

He added: “Dissent is essential to democracy but dissent must never lead to disorder or denying the rights of others so students can’t finish the semester and college education.”

Mr Biden has at times criticised Israel’s conduct in its war in Gaza, but the US has continued to supply it with weapons.

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The president said the protests have not prompted him to rethink policies relating to the Middle East.

His remarks came after days of silence about the protests. During this time, Republicans have tried to use the scenes of unrest against the Democrats.

Mr Biden said he rejected efforts to use the situation to “score political points”. “This isn’t a moment for politics,” he said. “It’s a moment for clarity.”

Police clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus early on Thursday morning. Pic: AP
Police clashed with pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus early on Thursday. Pic: AP

Demonstrators are detained on the UCLA campus .
Pic: AP
Demonstrators were detained on the UCLA campus. Pic: AP

Hundreds of protesters arrested

Overnight, police arrested pro-Palestinian protesters on multiple campuses, including at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where officers in riot gear fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and tore down an encampment that had been in place for a week.

Between 200 and 300 people were arrested at UCLA on Wednesday night, two law enforcement sources told Sky’s US partner NBC News.

Specific information on those arrested – such as whether they were students, staff or not affiliated with the university – may not be known for days.

Police detain a protestor, as other police officers enter the campus of Columbia University.
Pic: Reuters
Police detained a protester at Columbia University. Pic: Reuters

The cost of the two-night operation to secure the campus and remove the encampment is in the multiple millions of dollars, they added.

Other arrests were made at the University of Texas, Yale, Dartmouth, and the New York State universities at Buffalo and Stony Brook.

US universities protests map 2/05/2024
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Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop working with Israel, or companies they say support the war on Gaza, have spread across the US.

NYPD law enforcement officials hold a perimeter of closed streets surrounding Columbia University
Pic: Reuters
NYPD law enforcement officials shut down some of the city’s streets on Tuesday night. Pic: Reuters

Another prominent demonstration at Columbia University in New York was broken up by police on Tuesday night, with around 300 arrests being made.