Protests against high costs put pressure on Israel PM
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets Saturday to protest against the high cost of living and demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undertake sweeping economic reforms.
Police said over 60,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Beersheba and six other cities, in what local media have dubbed Israel's middle class uprising.
"People before profit" read a banner held by protesters who chanted "The people demand social justice."
"This is the Israeli spring" one sign read, referring to the uprisings which have rocked the Arab world.
The protests started two weeks ago when activists pitched tents along a Tel Aviv avenue, demanding lower rent and land prices. Demonstrations have since spread nationwide, and housing reforms announced by Netanyahu Tuesday have not helped quell the unrest.
Although commentators see no threat to Netanyahu's ruling coalition, the demonstrations are proving a major political headache for the Israeli leader, halfway through his term in office. His approval rating fell to 32 percent in a recent poll.
Economic growth in Israel is among the fastest in the world, with a 5 percent spurt seen for 2011. Unemployment was at a two-decade low of 5.7 percent in May.
But analysts say the high price of basic goods and services are weighing down the middle class which already bears Israel's heavy tax burden and sustains its conscript military.
Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told Channel 10 news Netanyahu would examine cuts to indirect taxes but "there were no quick solutions" to the complex problems which were causing protesters to take to the streets.
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Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow