Thousands of Israelis rally against new Netanyahu government

At least 20,000 people protested in central Tel Aviv Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new hard-right government, which critics say threatens Israeli democracy.

Protesters braved the rain for the rally,  brandishing signs with slogans decrying a "government of shame" and urging: "bring down the dictator", AFP correspondents said.

Israeli police estimated that 20,000 people joined the rally, according to public radio, while the organisers said there were "several tens of thousands" of protesters.

The demonstration is the biggest since Netanyahu's new government took power in late December in Israel, a country of just over nine million.

Other rallies were held outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem and in the northern city of Haifa, local media reported.

Already Israel's longest-serving premier, Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a coalition with extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, some of whose officials now head key ministries.

Protesters called for Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption charges in court, to resign.

"Bibi (Netanyahu) doesn't want a democracy, we don't need fascists in the Knesset," read one sign at the Tel Aviv protest, referring to the Israeli parliament.

Opposition parties had called on Israelis to join the demonstration -- organised by an anti-corruption group -- to "save democracy" and in protest at a planned judicial overhaul.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced on January 4 a controversial plan to hand more powers to lawmakers in appointing judges and overriding Supreme Court decisions.

The new government has also announced intentions to pursue a policy of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and carry out social reforms that have worried members and supporters of the LGBTQ community.

The rally included messages against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and calls to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community.

"There's no democracy with the occupation," read one sign.

Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister indicted while in office. He denies the charges against him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The leader of right-wing party Likud party was ousted from office in 2021 after a record 12-year run by a motley coalition of parties.

His return to power ended an unprecedented period of political gridlock that forced five elections in less than four years and deepened social divisions.

Former defence minister Benny Gantz, now in the opposition, on Friday on Twitter urged "all Israelis, from the right and the left, to come and rally for the preservation of Israeli democracy", calling it a "civil duty of utmost importance".

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