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British journalist's talk at US university cancelled after protest

Protesters forced the cancellation of a far-right commentator's appearance at the University of California at Berkeley after hurling smoke bombs, breaking windows and sparking a massive bonfire.

The decision came two hours before Wednesday's talk by British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, a polarising editor of Breitbart News, after some 1,500 people had gathered outside the venue.

Officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black that showed up as night fell to break windows, throw smoke bombs and flares and start the raging blaze outside the building.

"This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial-grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers," said UC Berkeley police chief Margo Bennet.

Ms Bennet said police determined at that point they could not guarantee security, cancelled the event and evacuated Mr Yiannopoulos from the building.

There were no immediate reports of arrests or serious injuries, she said.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to comment, tweeting: "If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

Prior to the burst of violence, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators carrying signs that read "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech" had been protesting the appearance for hours.

As the evening wore on, crowds of protesters cleared away from outside the building.

By 8pm, the crowd had thinned and the 100 or so protesters that remained danced to a brass band playing music and marched off campus and into a main avenue.

Mr Yiannopoulos, a 32-year-old right-wing provocateur, is a vocal supporter of Mr Trump and a self-proclaimed internet troll whose comments have been criticised as racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim and white supremacist.

He was banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.

His visit to Berkeley was sponsored by the campus Republican club.

The university has stressed it did not invite him and does not endorse his ideas, but is committed to free speech and rejected calls to cancel the event.

"The event has been cancelled," Mr Yiannopoulos posted on his Facebook page.

"I'll let you know more when the facts become clear. One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down."

The Berkeley College Republicans said its "constitutional right to free speech was silenced by criminals and thugs".

AP

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