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Middle East

Scuffles break out as Israeli lawmakers debate protests


Latest update : 2011-08-16

Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police Tuesday outside the Israeli parliament, where lawmakers were holding a special debate on the huge protests against the cost of living that have swept across the country.

AFP - Hundreds of Israeli youngsters scuffled with police outside the parliament on Tuesday as MPs held a special debate on the huge cost-of-living protests sweeping the country, an AFP correspondent said.

The demonstrations were timed to coincide with a special parliamentary session called during the Knesset's summer recess, to debate the government's handling of a growing wave of social discontent over the spiralling cost of living.

As the debate kicked off, around 500 protesters staged a march from the city centre towards the parliament, waving black flags and placards reading "Israeli 2011: A rich country with poor citizens" and shouting "We want social justice!"

As they reached the Knesset, they suddenly began running towards the gates but were shoved back by a handful of parliamentary security guards and police, causing scuffles before they moved the protest to the nearby Rose Garden park.

"Clashes broke out between hundreds of protesters and police in front of the Knesset," police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP, saying two people were arrested.

The parliamentary session comes after a month of unprecedented nationwide protests against the high price of food, housing, education and health care which have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets to demand change.

Opening the debate, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Israel needed "a fundamental shift in its economic and social priorities."

"The street has exposed these problems and we must fight for the future of our children as well as for budgets which can be used to this end because there is no social justice in Israel," said Livni who heads the centrist Kadima party.

Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz attend the debate, with the government represented by Minister without portfolio Benny Begin, who sought to blame the opposition for the crisis.

Outside, protesters said they were unimpressed.

"The Knesset session today is an attempt to calm us down, the protesting public," demonstrator Yair Fink told AFP outside the parliament building.

"Nothing will come out of it. The struggle will continue until the economic agenda in Israel changes, even if it takes a long time or ends at the ballot box," he said.

"It will continue until the aggressive capitalist, economic policy in Israel changes."

The unrest began in mid-July when disgruntled activists pitched protest tents in a wealthy district of Tel Aviv to illustrate their inability to afford housing in the city.

Their protest quickly snowballed into a much larger movement, tapping into deep frustration across Israel over the cost of living and income disparity.

The movement managed to bring at least 250,000 people into the streets across Israel on August 6, for the largest demonstrations over a social issue in the history of the Jewish state.

Polls show the movement has support from some 80 percent of the Israeli public, and Netanyahu has set up a committee headed by respected economist Manuel Trajtenberg to draft reform proposals.

But he has warned that Israel will not spend outside its current budget and that the sweeping and costly economic reforms championed by protesters could push the Jewish state into a financial crisis.

The demonstrators have reacted cautiously to Netanyahu's commission, welcoming the appointment of Trajtenberg, but also setting up their own alternative committee of experts, who will deliver their own proposed reforms within the next 10 days.

The debate on Tuesday will involve discussion of the social upheaval but the parliament is not expected to take action on any reforms until it returns fully from its summer recess in late October.


Date created : 2011-08-16


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