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Protesters come down from fourth-floor ledge at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY, Calif. -- A daylong drama that unfolded when eight protesters chained themselves together on a fourth-floor ledge of Wheeler Hall at the University of California, Berkeley ended peacefully when they came down late Thursday.

Eight UC Berkeley students chain themselves together with PVC pipe
Eight UC Berkeley students chain themselves together with PVC pipe on a fourth floor ledge on the south side of Wheeler Hall on the University of Calif. campus in Berkeley, Calif. to protest budget cuts, among other things on Thursday, March 3, 2011. About 200 students protested and watched from below. Police made one arrest Thursday following a protest the day before when 17 were arrested inside the same building. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Doug Oakley)

BERKELEY, Calif. -- A daylong drama that unfolded when eight protesters chained themselves together on a fourth-floor ledge of Wheeler Hall at the University of California, Berkeley ended peacefully when they came down late Thursday.

The protesters climbed down from the building about 9:25 p.m. and were not arrested. Originally, a group of nine climbed onto the ledge about 2 p.m., campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said, and crowds of approximately 200 to 300 onlookers gathered outside Wheeler Hall to watch, many chanting slogans.

The protests were over budget cuts to education, and several onlookers who documented the event through postings on the Twitter website indicated the students were going to meet with university Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to discuss their demands.

About 100 people who were still outside the hall when the eight remaining protesters agreed to depart the ledge offered loud cheers of approval. Some of the protesters then addressed the crowd and thanked their supporters.

All eight were cited for trespassing, police said.

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The protests occurred a day after university police arrested 17 people who refused to leave the same building.

UC Berkeley police spokesman Lt. Alex Yao confirmed to reporters that nine students originally took to the ledge but that one of them, identified by the Daily California website as junior Alex Poska, was arrested after he tried to come off the ledge and return to the building through a window, Yao said.

Yao did not return calls Thursday night but said during the afternoon that police were most concerned for the protesters' safety.

Early during the drama, police in riot gear cleared a crowd that had gathered near the front door of the building, and some protesters and police shoved each other as the line of officers moved in. Crowds outside the building sat and chanted, "Shame on you." While on the 5-foot-wide ledge, protesters unfurled a large red banner reading: "Our university. Stop the cuts. Fight back." They also released a list of demands, which included cutting university fees, ending cost-cutting efforts at the university, "democratizing" UC's governing Board of Regents, and stopping police oppression.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry LeGrande and other administrators had been inside Wheeler Hall trying to negotiate with the protesters, but LeGrande emerged later and read a statement from Birgeneau urging the group to come down peacefully.

Wheeler Hall was evacuated, and Birgeneau closed the classroom building and canceled all classes there. The incident interrupted midterms on the campus.

On Wednesday night, UC Berkeley police arrested 17 people who refused to leave Wheeler Hall following a day of protests against education budget cuts.

All 17 were taken to the Berkeley city jail and cited for misdemeanor trespassing, Yao said. Fourteen were released after being cited, but three, who had extra charges of obstructing police officers, were held overnight to appear in court Thursday, Yao said.

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Protesters at UC Berkeley are commonly issued citations and released on site and not taken to the jail, Yao said, but in this case "we were trying to make sure the operation was conducted safely, efficiently and timely and we believed taking them to jail was the safest way to do so." Yao said no injuries were reported during the arrests.

He said the Day of Action protests began around noon with about 200 protesters at Sproul Plaza on campus. The protesters then left Sproul and were joined by about 75 high school students from Oakland and marched through Doe Library and Wheeler Hall, Yao said.

About 55 demonstrators stayed in the lobby of Wheeler Hall throughout the day and finally, at the 10 p.m. closing time for the building, 17 of the protesters refused to leave, he said, and were arrested.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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