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Hunger strike at UC Berkeley winding down, strikers say

May 11, 2010 |  6:48 pm

Hunger strikers rallying at UC Berkeley for immigrants’ rights and against UC budget cuts could end their protest as early as Wednesday because of concerns about their health, strike leaders said. The number of hunger strikers has grown to more than 30 at various times since the protest began 10 days ago, the organizers said. Most strikers drank liquids throughout but abstained from solid food.

Among other things, the group was demanding that UC leaders denounce the new Arizona law that cracks down on undocumented immigrants and that the campus rehire custodians and other workers laid off in austerity measures.

Graduate student Eli Friedman, who was among the hunger strikers, said Tuesday that the protest had helped draw attention to a number of important issues but the group did not want to jeopardize anyone’s health. He and others said the strike was expected to end by Friday. Friedman criticized Chancellor Robert Birgeneau for refusing to meet with the protesters without preconditions.

The group had an encampment on the Berkeley campus until police Monday evicted them from the area. No one was arrested, officials said.

Birgeneau spoke to the protesters over the weekend while he was on a business trip to Europe and told them he opposed the Arizona measure, a campus spokesperson said. But Birgeneau said he was unable to rehire all laid-off workers and said he wanted the students to end their hunger strike before he met with them.

Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university has been concerned about the strikers’ health and described the possible end of the hunger strike "as very encouraging." She said the chancellor would meet with them after the action ends.

-- Larry Gordon