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Israeli PM suspends judicial overhaul plan amid protests

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-03-28 09:50

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday evening that he would suspend the legislation of his contentious plan to overhaul the country's judiciary by about a month to allow "dialogue" between coalition and opposition lawmakers.

He made the remarks in a televised speech, which came after tens of thousands of Israelis rallied outside the parliament on Monday and a general strike started earlier in the day to protest the overhaul.

Netanyahu said he has decided to suspend the legislation in order to "allow time to try and reach a broad agreement" on the reforms.

"In any case," the legislation blitz will resume after the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, reconvene after the Passover holiday break on April 30, he said.

Opponents of the judicial overhaul rejected Netanyahu's statement, saying that the suspension is not real because there is no discussion or voting while the Knesset is in recess, which begins on Monday.

"The struggle continues," Orly Bar-Lev, one of the main leaders of the protests against the overhaul plan, wrote on Twitter. "As long as the prime minister and his far-right allies intend to resume the legislation, we will be on the street," she wrote.

Following Netanyahu's remarks, Israel's largest trade union Histadrut, which represents 800,000 workers from infrastructure, banking, transportation, health and other sectors, announced the general strike that paralyzed the Israeli economy on Monday will end on Tuesday.

The Israel Airports Authority said in a statement that outbound flights, which had been halted in the morning as part of the strike, have resumed.

Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition party of the National Unity, said in a televised news conference that he and lawmakers from his party would take part in talks with the representatives of the coalition in Israeli President Isaac Herzog's residence in Jerusalem.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid didn't immediately endorse Netanyahu's statement, but said that he always welcomes dialogue. At a televised news conference, Lapid said that despite Netanyahu has called for dialogue several times, he continued to push ahead with the reforms without pausing for talks.

"We are facing the largest crisis in the history of Israel," Lapid said, adding that the protest should continue with the goal of drafting a constitution for Israel.

The overhaul, proposed by the ruling coalition and aimed at curbing judicial power, has divided the country for weeks, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in demonstrations and blocking major highways across Israel and rallying outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.

On Monday, factories, banks, shopping malls and local authorities participated in the general strike and shut down services. Meanwhile, the Israeli Medical Association announced a one-day strike at all public hospitals and community clinics.

At noon, the Azrieli Group and BIG Group, two of Israel's largest mall chains, joined the strike and shut down dozens of their shopping centers across the country.

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