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UC Berkeley Protesters Come Down From Ledge

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Protesters chained themselves to the ledge of Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on March 3, 2011. (CBS)

Protesters chained themselves to the ledge of Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on March 3, 2011. (CBS)

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BERKELEY (CBS 5 / KCBS / AP / BCN) — A group of student protesters retreated from the ledge of the University of California at Berkeley building where they have been perched for several hours Thursday.

Eight protesters occupied the fourth-floor outside ledge of the university’s Wheeler Hall, with six of them chained together.

UC Berkeley police Lt. Alex Yao said that police were alerted to the safety hazard created by the demonstrators at 1:46 p.m., when there were nine people on the ledge.

KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:

“All through the process, the safety for the demonstrators was a paramount concern and the main concern” for the campus police, Yao said.

According to Yao, around 2:50 p.m., one of the protesters climbed back into the building through an open window. Police subsequently detained the demonstrator, Yao said.

UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau ordered the building closed at 4 p.m., and police began moving students, faculty and staff from the area, according to the university.

University officials said 26 classes were canceled, impacting more than 1,000 students.

uc berkeley protest 030311 ground UC Berkeley Protesters Come Down From Ledge

Protesters in front of Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on March 3, 2011. (CBS)

As dusk fell, hundreds of protesters on the ground were yelling and chanting, while a line of police in riot gear surrounded the building.

Protesters hung four large paper banners in front of Wheeler Hall that listed the demands of protesters, including an end to the budget cuts and an end to police brutality.

Shortly before 9 p.m., the students freed themselves and came down from the ledge after reaching an agreement with campus officials, second-year UC Berkeley doctoral student Callie Maidhof said.

“It’s been declared a victory,” Maidhof said.

The students have been calling for a response to the cuts by Birgeneau. Maidhof said it appears that they have succeeded on that front, although the time of the meeting with the chancellor had not been announced.

A campus representative was not readily reachable for comment on Thursday evening’s developments, although Yao said that communication among campus police, campus administrators and the demonstrators resulted in an end to the standoff.

When the eight remaining demonstrators exited the building, they were arrested, cited for trespassing and released, Yao said. The ninth protestor who has been detained earlier was also cited for trespassing and released, he said.

“We’re very pleased that this situation resolved safely and promptly,” Yao said Thursday night.

Thursday’s protest followed demonstrations against state education cuts on Wednesday that led to the arrests of 17 people who university police said refused to leave a campus building.

Since then, 14 of those have been released and were scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon.

One of the students arrested, who was reached for comment by phone Thursday afternoon but requested that her name be withheld, said she joined the protests inside the building around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

According to the student, police first ordered protesters to vacate the building around 10 p.m., when the building officially closed.

“We linked arms until police physically separated us,” the student said. Around 10:30 p.m., Berkeley police arrested her for trespassing, she said.

She was released from jail around 8 a.m., she said, and returned at 2 p.m. for her court appearance, where she was not formally charged.

The student said she was protesting because she thought the budget cuts would limit an educational system that is already broken.

“I want people to realize we do have access to education and access to public space because we’re all human beings,” she said. “We’ll put chains on our bodies it they put chains on our minds.”

According to Maidhof, students involved in campus protests in late 2009 have yet to resolve related charges and some are still awaiting hearings. Now, Maidhof said, those students will be offered to be put on probation for the remaining five weeks of the semester.

The protest Wednesday was part of a day of action by students around the country opposed to education cuts.

A similar protest was held in Berkeley last year, also in early March. Those demonstrations turned rowdy, and included the rush-hour shutdown of a major freeway in neighboring Oakland.

Several agencies assisted the campus police with the response, including the Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville police departments, Yao said.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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