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Campus shooting as US protests target Berkeley

by Stephanie Rice

BERKELEY, November 16, 2011 (AFP) - Thousands of anti-Wall Street protesters marched on the University of California, Berkeley Tuesday and defied police by trying to revive a camp hours after police shot a suspected gunman.

There was no immediate indication that the shooting was related to the protests at the elite college, which continued into the evening when demonstrators voted put up tents at a mass gathering on a campus square.

Police looked on as half a dozen tents were erected in the middle of a crowd of several thousand demonstrators -- 5,000 according to organizers -- in front of Sproul Hall, on the square where riot police cleared a camp last week.

Amid a party-like atmosphere, activists recited speeches by Mario Savio made famous on the same spot during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

Occupy Wall Street camps have sprouted across the United States over the last two months, with demonstrators protesting against alleged corporate greed and political corruption, which they blame for the 2008 financial crisis.

The protest organizers at Berkeley sought to distance themselves from the afternoon shooting at the California institution's Haas School of Business.

"The shooting on campus is completely unrelated to today's protest," the Occupy Cal organizers tweeted, while Eric, a university lecturer who asked to be identified by first name only, expressed shock at the incident.

"That's horrible," he told AFP. "It makes me feel more dedicated to the movement. We have to show that we're about peace."

The incident, in which the suspect was shot after refusing to drop his weapon, was the latest shooting in or near anti-Wall Street protests, after two people died from gunshot wounds in Oakland and Vermont last week.

The alleged gunman was confronted in a third-floor computer lab, where a number of students were working.

"The suspect was seen carrying a gun and entered an elevator. A staff member reported this to the police, who responded immediately. The suspect then left the elevator and entered a computer room," said a university statement.

"The police followed him and asked him to put up his hands. The suspect then pulled out the gun, and police shot him," it said.

At a press conference, UC Berkeley police chief Mitchell Celaya said the suspect displayed the gun "in a threatening manner," adding that students in the room "literally hit the floor."

He noted that the shooting was the first such incident on the California campus since the 1980s, but said there was no indication it was linked to the protests.

"We don't know if there's any correlation between the two events. There's nothing to suggest that," he told reporters.

Authorities have cracked down on a number of high-profile protest camps in the last few days -- including in nearby Oakland on Monday, and in New York earlier Tuesday -- following a series of deaths in or near camps last week.

In addition to the two people died in separate incidents involving firearms in Oakland and Vermont, two other deaths were reported at protest encampments in New Orleans and Salt Lake City.

Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau meanwhile voiced hope that the shooting would not mar the latest protests, which come after riot police used batons to clear a protest camp on university grounds last week.

Birgeneau stood firm against the revival of a camp. "In the long run we will not allow an encampment," he said, adding: "I have confidence in our students, that they will stay focused on what the important issues are."



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