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Watch: Eritrean protesters clash with police who fire stun grenades and tear gas
Israel is considering tough steps including the immediate deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers involved in riots in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Some 170 people were injured in violent clashes with police and in-fighting between groups of supporters and opponents of the Eritrean regime.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “a red line” had been crossed.
He also ordered a new plan to remove all African migrants that he described as “illegal infiltrators”.
Saturday’s unprecedented disorder began after activists opposed to the Eritrean government said that they had asked Israeli authorities to cancel an event organised by their country’s embassy.
They broke through a police barricade around the venue, which was then vandalised.
Police in riot gear fired tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds as officers on horseback tried to push the protesters away.
An investigation has been opened into whether the use of live fire was within the law.
Israeli police – several dozen of whom were among the injured – said they felt their lives were at risk.
There were also dramatic street battles between large crowds of Eritreans armed with pieces of wood, metal and rocks. As well as attacking each other, they smashed shop windows and cars.
The divisions within Eritrea over the rule of President Isaias Afwerki have spilled over into the diaspora, and this is the latest outbreak of violence in recent weeks.
Residents said the streets of central Tel Aviv sounded like a war zone over several hours, with police helicopters hovering overhead and sirens blaring.
The rioting has put the divisive issue of migrants back on the political agenda, at a time when Israel is already split over the hardline government’s highly controversial judicial overhaul plan.
Mr Netanyahu and others in his cabinet have blamed the Supreme Court for blocking earlier attempted action to push migrants out of Israel.
“Now there remains a serious problem with the illegal infiltrators in south Tel Aviv and elsewhere,” the prime minister said at Sunday’s special government meeting.
“We want harsh measures against the rioters, including the immediate deportation of those who took part.”
He requested that the ministers present him with plans “for the removal of all the other illegal infiltrators”.
The far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir now plans to propose a bill that would overturn part of Israel’s quasi-constitutional basic law on human dignity and liberty to press ahead with the mass deportation of migrants who entered the country illegally.
It is estimated that there are about 18,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea in Israel, most of whom arrived illegally years ago by crossing Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. They say they fled danger, persecution and compulsory military conscription in one of the world’s most repressive countries.
Although Eritreans supporting the regime would not appear to be in need of international protection as refugees, the authorities in Israel have not made differentiations between asylum seekers based on their political affiliations until now.
As Eritrea marks 30 years of independence from Ethiopia, festivals have been held by its diaspora.
But as well as Israel, some in Europe and North America have been marred by outbreaks of violence – last month a three-day Eritrean cultural festival in Toronto, Canada, was cancelled after supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s regime clashed.
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