Scuffles broke out Friday at Cambridge University as about 200 protesters demonstrated against a speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief accused of sexual assault.
Angry students shouted “DSK, go away” and “shame on you” outside the debating society building where he made an address on the global economy, and held up a banner saying “rape survivors don’t get this platform”.
Police intervened after a number of protesters tried to climb the metal fences surrounding the Cambridge Union venue. Two people, a 19-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman, were arrested, a spokeswoman said.
Earlier, a lawyer for the New York maid whose claims of sexual assault led Strauss-Kahn to resign as International Monetary Fund chief in May condemned the union for inviting the politician to address students.
“It’s an affront to all victims of any sexual crime that he’s here, being given this forum to speak,” Douglas Wigdor, who flew in especially from New York, told about 100 students at the university’s law faculty.
“For some strange reason Strauss-Kahn thinks he can go around the world and talk about the sovereign debt crisis and the state of the European economy without being questioned about what he did to an innocent woman.”
Strauss-Kahn quit the IMF following the allegations made by hotel chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo, although US prosecutors dropped criminal charges against him in August.
The 62-year-old, once considered a favourite for the French presidency, continues to be dogged by scandal over his sex life and now faces an investigation in France over an unfolding prostitution and corruption scandal.
The protesters’ shouts could be heard from inside the packed room where Strauss-Kahn spoke Friday evening, but he dismissed them, according to a source inside the closed door session.
“They can do what they want — I think they are wrong,” he said.
When one member of the audience asked him about the US allegations, he pointed out that the criminal charges had been dropped.
The Cambridge Union defended inviting Strauss-Kahn, saying he was “exceptionally well qualified” to speak on economic matters and adding that they had invited him before the sex allegations emerged.
But the move has sparked outrage.
Graffiti reading “DSK die” and “Women Deserve Better” appeared on the walls of the union building overnight, sparking two arrests.
Nearly 800 people also signed a petition asking Cambridge to withdraw the invite.
“It’s the day after International Women’s Day, and with Dominique Strauss-Kahn having been repeatedly accused of assaulting women — it’s just a bit tasteless really,” student Jamie Gibson told AFP.
Another protester, Sophie Maddocks, added: “If he was being accused of any other kind of crime, like accessing child pornography or paedophilia, there’s no way the union would have invited him.
“It’s a lack of respect for issues of violence against women.”
Although the criminal charges were dropped, Diallo is seeking monetary damages in a civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn, with the first hearing due to be held in a New York court on March 28.
On the same day, he is due to appear before investigating magistrates in the French city of Lille on charges linked to prostitution and corruption.
Strauss-Kahn has also been accused by 32-year-old French writer Tristane Banon of attempting to rape her in 2003, but French prosecutors ruled that the statute of limitations had passed, preventing any case against him.
Wigdor also read out a statement from Banon, which said: “I know that this man remains an economics professor but I thought — and maybe I was being naive — that one would not allow someone under so many investigations to lecture.”