Tens of thousands have gathered at demonstrations around Israel, after leaders of a popular social movement called for rallies outside major cities to protest high prices of rent and cuts in government social spending.
At 9pm local time on Saturday, about 50,000 people were mobilised throughout the country, outside of the main urban centres of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, police said.
Protest leaders said they were hoping for a turnout larger than last week’s, when more than 300,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and other cities calling for "social justice" and a "welfare state".
In Beersheva, the centre of the latest protests, organisers were hoping to attract tens of thousands of participants from the Negev region.
In Haifa, the main northern city, about 25,000 demonstrators gathered, police said, without giving a breakdown of the number of protesters in each city or town.
There were 5,000 in Afula, in Galilee, also in the north, 2,000 in Modiin in central Israel, and 1,500 in Eilat, in the extreme south.
"[Protest organisers] wanted to remove a lot of the attention from Tel Aviv where the international media has been focusing its attention, where the government has been focusing its attention, [and] spread these marches out to ten or so cities across the country and show the government that this is a nationwide movement calling for economic change," said Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Beersheva.
"The organisers will tell you that this movement does have legs, it does have staying power," he said.
‘The Negev Awakens’
At Beersheva’s main square, a huge banner read: "The Negev awakens".
"Police tell us that this main open area square in Beersheva holds 32,000 and we’re almost close to filling this up now," our correspondent said.
Demonstrators carried banners and placards that read: "the south is angry," and "toward a welfare state – now."
Crowds chanted, "the people demand social justice," the slogan of the protests since they began a month ago with the appearance of the first protest tent along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv’s most upscale district.
An opinion poll released by Channel 10 television Tuesday showed that 88 per cent of respondents said they supported the movement, with 53 per cent saying they are willing take part in protests.
Under pressure from the movement, Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu said he was willing to alter his economic approach and meet the demands of the demonstrators.
He created a commission to propose reforms and present recommendations to the government within a month.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)