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UCLA Cancels Classes After Violent Clashes Between Protesters and Police

Students, local officials and other community members were stunned and baffled on Wednesday in the aftermath of violence that erupted on Tuesday night at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Student demonstrators who were at the encampment, which has been a mostly peaceful — if tense — hub of protest since it arose on Thursday, described an attack on the encampment by a large group of counterprotesters on Tuesday night. The group of counterprotesters, including many who did not appear to be students, called students “terrorists” and a racial slur; launched fireworks, stink bombs and metal into the encampment; and sprayed students with pepper spray, according to the demonstrators.

“We were all just very scared,” said Marie Salem, 28, a graduate student studying public health who was at the camp overnight. Her voice was hoarse as she spoke.

Local news footage and social media images showed scenes of chaos: The clashing groups threw punches and wrestled each other to the ground. Counterprotesters ripped down wooden barricades and yelled at people in the encampment to take off their masks and show their faces, using expletives. Lines of law enforcement officers appeared to stand by without intervening in the fights.

Student demonstrators said they felt abandoned by the university, where officials had previously made a point of saying that their top priority was keeping the campus safe.

The counterprotesters were “absolutely terrorizing us” for hours, Ms. Salem said, adding that without police help they were “left to defend ourselves.”

Administrators announced on Wednesday morning that classes would be canceled for the day, and that police officers would remain stationed throughout campus. They urged students and faculty members to avoid the quad that was occupied by a pro-Palestinian encampment, where the detritus from a night of chaos — trash, broken pieces of wood, trampled clothing — speckled the ground.

As the campus awoke early Wednesday, students and other curious onlookers leaned against the barricades at the encampment, silently taking videos or snapping photos. A police helicopter continued to hover overhead, and a large Palestinian flag at the center of the camp swayed in the wind.

“The general response from the student body is just frustration,” said Aidan Woodruff, 19, a first-year cello performance major, who learned that classes were canceled when he arrived on campus. “Blocking access to classes, not being able to get to where they need to go. There are definitely students who feel strongly about the causes, but a big part of it is people coming in from the general L.A. area and putting on a demonstration here that’s causing so much disruption.”

The university said that the two main buildings beside the encampment, Royce Hall and Powell Library, would remain closed through at least Friday.

Throughout the morning, state and local officials condemned the violence, but most stopped short of assigning blame to any specific groups or figures.

“The right to free speech does not extend to inciting violence, vandalism, or lawlessness on campus,” Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said in a statement. “Those who engage in illegal behavior must be held accountable for their actions — including through criminal prosecution, suspension or expulsion.”

Lindsay P. Horvath, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, called on leaders of the university to take action to prevent such violence from taking place in the future.

“For safety to truly be a priority, we must take thoughtful and appropriate steps to protect it,” she said in a statement. “The U.C.L.A. community deserves nothing less.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, university administrators had not responded to multiple requests for comment on how they decided to call in law enforcement, when they asked for help and how they might move forward.

The protests turned violent on Tuesday night, hours after administrators declared the encampment illegal and threatened to suspend or expel any student protesters.

Officers from the California Highway Patrol arrived at about 1:15 a.m., according to Officer Michael Nasir. At about 3:30 a.m., officers wedged themselves between the groups, and the violence began to de-escalate. There were no arrests, said Officer Sergio Garcia of the C.H.P.

The Jewish Federation Los Angeles said it was “appalled” at the violence that occurred on campus, and that the counterprotesters did not represent the Jewish community or its values. The federation criticized the U.C.L.A. chancellor, Gene Block, and the school’s administration for creating an environment that has made students feel unsafe and called on him to meet with leaders of the Jewish community to discuss safety measures.

Hussam Ayloush, the director of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urged Rob Bonta, the state’s attorney general, to investigate what he characterized as a lack of response by the campus police and the Los Angeles Police Department.

“U.C.L.A. and other schools must ensure that students can continue to peacefully protest the genocide in Gaza without facing attacks by violent pro-Israel mobs,” Mr. Ayloush said in a statement.

Emily Baumgaertner and Claire Fahy contributed reporting.

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