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Netanyahu indictment decision sparks rival street rallies

Corruption charges against Israeli premier may swing April election to centre-left opposition, according to new polls
Demonstrators separated by police during rallies in support of and against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Saturday night (AFP)

Opponents and supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the streets on Saturday evening after the country's attorney general said he intended to file corruption charges against the PM. 

In central Tel Aviv, Netanyahu loyalists waved blue-and-white Israel flags and carried placards reading "Netanyahu, the people are with you" and "Netanyahu, my prime minister".

Separated from them by a police cordon, opponents waved signs proclaiming "Crime Minister" and "Time for Netanyahu to Go," an AFP photographer said. Police declined to give an estimate of numbers.

Under Israeli law, the premier is not obliged to resign unless he is charged, convicted and loses all appeals, a lengthy process.

Netanyahu is running for a fifth term in an April general election. He said after the attorney general's announcement on Thursday that he planned on being prime minister for a long time to come despite the allegations.

Still, the charges against Netanyahu may be enough to swing the April election to the centre-left opposition, according to new polls, Bloomberg said.

Polls released on Friday night showed the Blue and White bloc led by ex-military chief of staff Benny Gantz and former finance minister Yair Lapid may be positioned to form a centre-left government with 61 seats in parliament, compared with 59 likely to back a right-wing government led by Netanyahu's Likud party, according to Bloomberg.

Earlier this week, MEE columnist Richard Silverstein wrote: "Even before the indictments, Israeli voters were giving a slight lead to the Gantz-Lapid union; it is likely to grow even larger with Netanyahu facing prosecution."

On Saturday night in Ramle, near Tel Aviv, opposition Labour activists projected onto a wall of the Maasiyahu Prison a giant message reading "Netanyahu, Israel is ashamed," a party statement said.

The facility is where former prime minister Ehud Olmert served time for corruption and ex-president Moshe Katsav was incarcerated for rape and other sexual offences.

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