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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 17:55 GMT
Jerusalem gets ultra-Orthodox mayor
Lupolianski (left) and outgoing mayor, Ehud Olmert
Lupolianski said he will work for all the city's residents

An ultra-Orthodox Jew has taken charge as acting mayor of Jerusalem for the first time.

Uri Lupolianski takes over from Ehud Olmert, who is expected to take on a key cabinet position once the new Israeli government is formed.

Religious Jews at the Western Wall, Jerusalem
Some secular Jews fear the influence of the orthodox
But Mr Lupolianski's accession is controversial, underlining the tensions in the city as the ultra-Orthodox gain power.

Mr Lupolianski will serve only until a special city election later this year, but his assumption of office symbolises a demographic and political shift that has quietly been taking place in Jerusalem.

Two thirds of the city's 600,000 residents are Jewish, of whom over half are Orthodox.

But the ultra-Orthodox - who represent less than 10% of the national population - are on the rise.

The community, distinctive for it black clothing and self-enclosed lifestyle, rears large families in keeping with the biblical instruction to be "fruitful and multiply".

More than half of the city's six-year-olds starting school are ultra-Orthodox, while Mr Lupolianski is a father of 12 children.

Simmering tensions

Although the Palestinian intifada - or uprising - has blunted some of the internal tensions in Jewish society, they remain high.

Secular Jews resent the traditional privileges - like exemptions from military service - that the ultra-Orthodox enjoy.

And orthodox religious parties often hold coalition governments to ransom.

Some fear that Mr Lupolianski will impose a theocratic agenda that could mean an end to football matches on the Sabbath among other things.

Secular councilwoman Roni Alloni called Mr Lupolianski "the worst thing that can happen to Jerusalem".

But one commentator said this could be a chance to build bridges as the ultra-Orthodox gain in confidence and the rest of society sees that they do not pose a threat.


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18 Feb 03 | issues
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