Two demonstrators were arrested after clashing with police while French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn addressed one of the UK’s most famous university debating societies.
Trouble flared outside the Cambridge Union Society last night as the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was accused of sexually assaulting a maid, gave a private speech about economics to hundreds of students.
Around 150 demonstrators from the university’s student union Women’s Campaign gathered outside the building after marching through Cambridge in protest against the event.
The group said they were angered by the society’s apparent decision to invite Mr Strauss-Kahn because “of his former economic position and alleged criminal notoriety”.
The French economist was rushed into a side entrance of the hall by security guards, who scuffled with photographers and a demonstrator, about an hour before he spoke.
He said nothing to waiting journalists – who were barred from listening to the speech – and would not answer their questions.
A ring of steel was set up around the building with security staff guarding entrances and fences erected to keep demonstrators at bay.
But a group tried to scale barriers at the back of the hall before two protesters were carried away by police.
A police spokeswoman said a 19-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting police and a 23-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace.
Two people arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of causing criminal damage, after graffiti appeared on the union building, remained in custody last night, she added.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in New York last year. Charges against him were dropped.
Students who had been in the audience said Mr Strauss-Kahn was asked one question about the incident, following the speech, and told listeners that he had been “acquitted”.
He was also asked about protesters and said they could “do what they want”, students added.
Protesters had suggested that society officials saw allegations of sexual assault as “titillation”.
But society leaders defended their decision to invite Mr Strauss-Kahn – and to ban journalists from the talk.
President Katie Lam, 20, who is studying classics at Cambridge, said the union was not deliberately courting controversy.
She said officials invited speakers they thought “interesting” and did not make “moral or political judgments”, adding that the union’s invitation was first made “a few years ago”.
Officials had decided on a “no-press policy” after discussions with Mr Strauss-Kahn, she added.
Student Niki Horsfall, 23, said Mr Strauss-Kahn had been asked once about the incident with the maid and once about protesters.
“He was very professional. He said he had spent a week in prison ... and was acquitted,” said Ms Horsfall.
“He was asked about the protesters and said they could do what they want.”
She added: “Apart from that it was all economics.”