Berkeley reverses decision to nix speech by right-wing commentator

Right-wing political commentator/author Ann Coulter had criticised a decision by Berkeley to cancel a talk she was scheduled to give at the university as an attack on free speech (AFP Photo/Alberto E. Rodriguez) (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File)

Los Angeles (AFP) - The University of California at Berkeley on Thursday reversed its decision to cancel a talk by right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, offering a new date and venue for the event.

University officials on Wednesday had defended their decision to scrap the firebrand pundit's April 27 appearance at the famously progressive campus, citing security concerns and several recent political protests that had turned violent.

Coulter had lashed out at the decision, saying it was an attack on free speech, and had vowed to defy the university and speak at the campus anyway on the scheduled date.

University Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said Thursday that given Coulter's insistence on giving her talk despite security threats, a new venue was sought.

"Fortunately, that expanded search identified an appropriate, protectable venue that is available on the afternoon of May 2," Dirks said in a statement. "While it is not one we have used for these sorts of events in the past, it can both accommodate a substantial audience and meet the security criteria established by our police department."

But Coulter appeared to balk at the new date and venue, saying in a tweet that the school was imposing new restrictions on the event.

"Berkeley just imposed an all-new arbitrary & harassing condition on my exercise of a constitutional right," the post said.

It was unclear if she would agree to the new date.

The decision to shelve Coulter's appearance at the campus that gave birth to the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s came days after opponents and supporters of President Donald Trump clashed in the city.

It also echoed a similar cancellation in February of a planned speech at the university by right-wing provocateur and former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, following violent protests.

University officials said they had learned that some of the groups that took part in recent clashes planned to target Coulter's appearance.

They said security concerns mounted last week after posters appeared on the walls of campus buildings threatening disruptions.