Netanyahu Speech Cancelled

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MONTREAL, September 9, 2002 (2:37pm) — Montreal riot police usedpepper spray and tear gas inside Concordia University against Palestiniansolidarity demonstrators this afternoon. The main building at Concordia has beenevacuated by security guards as the air in the building became unbreatheable.Several individuals were bent over, coughing and vomiting, as they triedto get away from the fumes.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meant to kick off a Canadian speaking tour at the university today, but his scheduled speech has beencancelled.

Concordia has been the site of an active campus campaign against the occupation of Palestine by Israel. There were several injuries to protesters, as well as at least one arrest.Classes have been cancelled in the building.

At least two thousand demonstrators gathered outside Concordia’s maindowntown campus from 10am to demonstrate against the rightwing Netanyahu who is still active in Israel politics. The crowd was comprised of a majority of Arab and Palestinian demonstrators, as well as many students and allies from across Montreal. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and handed out “arrest warrants” charging Netanyahu with war crimes. There was also a contingent representing the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation, who organized street theatre against Netanyahu.

Demonstrators marched around the Hall Building, where the speech was to have taken place, which was partiallyclosed. Students were restricted to one entrance, in a building wherethousands enter and leave every day. The building’s main lobby was closedoff. Metal barricades were erected around the building, and there werehundreds of police on hand from first thing this morning. Many Netanyahu ticket-holders were blocked from entering the building by demonstrators.

There were also numerous verbal confrontations, as well as some pushing-and-shoving, between pro-Israel demonstrators and Palestinian solidarity demonstrators.

By approximately noon, hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gained access to the second floor, occupying theescalators overlooking the lobby. They chanted and sung “Free Palestine,” among other slogans, whileticket-holders entered the building and passed through metal detectors.Riot police blocked the bottom of the escalator, while demonstratorsoutside, both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, banged on the windowsopposite the demonstators and police.

Several individuals tried to push through the riot police. Policeresponded with shield and baton blows. Pro-Israeli protesters urged the police to react, cheering whenever the police hit pro-Palestinian protesters.

At one point, the force of people banging windows outdoors smashed the glass. At least two demonstrators, both Palestinian activists, had to be carried back up the escalators dueto injuries from baton blows. Various demonstrators, who were outraged,continued to push and throw projectiles at the police.

The police used tear gas and pepper spray, which dispersed the crowdup the escalator, while outside, another large window broke. Asdemonstrators retreated, several threw chairs and other large itemsat the police in the lobby below.

The building was quickly thick with gas and pepper spray. Demonstrators were not equipped with gas masks, although several protected themselves with kaffiyehs they had worn for the demonstration. Many students were overcome by gas while sitting intheir classrooms.

As I write this, it is just over one hour after the incidents at Concordia. Hundreds ofdemonstrators are still outside the Hall Building. There have been further conflicts between pro-Israel and Palestinian solidarity demonstrators, and there are reports of more arrests.

With the cancellation of Netanyahu’s speech, the organizers of today’sdemonstration — various Palestinian student activists and their allies — are declaring the day a success. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak inWinnipeg later tonight, Ottawa tomorrow morning and in Toronto tomorrow evening, where more protests areplanned.

Moments ago, Netanyahu spoke at a hastily arranged press conference at Montreal's RitzCarlton Hotel. He dismissed protesters as enemies of freedom.

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