Israelis defy emergency restrictions to protest

Jerusalem (AFP) –

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Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic took to the streets again on Tuesday, despite the renewal of emergency restrictions on public protest.

Protesters in Jerusalem, many carrying Israeli flags, lined streets and stood in open spaces maintaining distance from one another and wearing protective masks.

In Tel Aviv, drone footage broadcast on public television reported "hundreds" of people wearing masks and standing well apart in the forecourt of the Habima national theatre.

But later an AFP photographer in Tel Aviv saw scuffles between police and protesters trying to break through a cordon and march through the streets.

They carried banners reading, "Oppressor! Resign!" and a cartoon image of Netanyahu behind bars, a reference to the premier's ongoing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. He denies all charges.

"Protesters have started walking in a procession illegally and against the rules and regulations," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote in a statement.

Police were "dealing with the situation," he added.

He did not give an estimate on how many were protesting in Tel Aviv, but said that demonstrations were "taking place across the city."

There were no immediate reports of arrests.

Late Monday night the government announced that a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, chaired by Netanyahu, had decided to extend a state of emergency imposed last week for a further seven days.

Parliament has approved a law restricting demonstrations as part of a coronavirus-related state of emergency, that critics say is primarily aimed at silencing protests against Netanyahu.

The bill declared a state of emergency for one week, renewable for further seven-day periods.

The draconian regulations limit open-air gatherings to 20 people and bar demonstrators from travelling more than one kilometre (0.6 mile) to attend protests.

In response, localised rallies have mushroomed along with mobile phone apps giving users locations of demonstrations near their homes.

With over 270,000 coronavirus infections confirmed and over 1,700 deaths in a population of nine million, Israel currently has the world's highest weekly infection rate per capita.

A general lockdown on many retail businesses and all bars and restaurants went into force on September 18.