JERUSALEM: Thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening, resuming the weekly protest against the Israeli leader after emergency restrictions were lifted as part of a coronavirus lockdown.
The protests were halted last month after Israel imposed new lockdowns in response to a new outbreak of the virus. Emergency regulations prevented Israelis from traveling to Jerusalem to demonstrate and only allowed people to attend smaller protests within a kilometer (800 meters) of their homes.
Protesters gathered in central Jerusalem and marched towards Netanyahus’ official residence, holding banners calling on him to go and cry Revolution! Many sounded horns and beat drums, while others hoisted Israeli flags. Dozens of smaller protests took place across the country, and organizers said some 260,000 people attended.
Protesters say Netanyahu must resign, calling him unfit to rule the country while he is on trial for corruption. They also say he mismanaged the virus crisis, which has driven unemployment up.
Netanyahu is on trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his role in a series of scandals. He denied the charges and said he was the victim of a plot by overzealous police and prosecutors and the liberal media.
Israeli media reported several incidents of violence perpetrated by far-right counter-protesters. In the northern city of Haifa, police said they arrested three people suspected of using pepper spray on protesters.
Earlier this year, Israel successfully contained the virus outbreak by sealing its borders and imposing a strict lockdown. But a rapid reopening of the economy led to an increase in cases, forcing a second lockout.
Health officials say the new restrictions have lowered the infection rate and that Israel is set to start easing the lockdown on Sunday by reopening daycares and some businesses. A complete reopening should take several months.
Unemployment, including those on permanent leave, has climbed to nearly 25%, according to government figures. Many of the protesters include business owners, entrepreneurs and workers who have lost their jobs.
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