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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Anti-Olmert rally a 'wake-up call'
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Tel Aviv

Protesters in Tel Aviv
Past protests in Tel Aviv have led to major political change
They came from across the country and the political spectrum.

The young mixed with the old. But they all agreed on one thing - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must go.

In Tel Aviv's Rabin Square tens of thousands of Israelis gathered on Thursday night in a show of people power to maintain the pressure on the deeply unpopular Mr Olmert.

Even by Israeli standards, Mr Olmert has suffered a bruising few days in politics.

An interim report published on Monday into the government's handling of last summer's war in Lebanon heaped criticism upon the prime minister.

But in spite of dismal poll ratings, Mr Olmert has decided to try and weather the political hurricane.

'Failures, Go Home'

With this in mind, the demonstrators gathered here tonight impatient for change.

We need to wake up the people. For too long we have been sleeping
Roger Suid
Protester
"You serve the people, the people don't serve you," the father of a soldier killed in the conflict said from a stage in the square, a huge banner reading "Failures, Go Home" behind him.

"Resign Now," the crowd chanted in reply.

Organisers decided not to allow politicians to address the protest to give the gathering a grassroots nature, said Uzi Dayan, a retired general and a main speaker.

But there were barbs hurled at both the prime minister and Defence Minister Amir Peretz who, until now, has also resisted calls to resign.

One of the protesters Ronan Shovil, 26, postponed his honeymoon after being called up as an army reservist during last summer's war.

"They [the government] took our lives for granted," he said. "The way they managed the war was a disgrace.

"My reserve duty was not just about Lebanon. It also means coming to this square to help kick out the government."

Another protester Roger Suid, 69, a chemical engineer said, "We need to wake up the people. For too long we have been sleeping. Now we have a chance to take back our government."

Successor question

For many Israelis, the 34-day war was perceived as a failure because the two main objectives set out by Mr Olmert were not achieved: returning the two kidnapped soldiers and crushing the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

Views from Tel Aviv protesters

In the month after the war there were a series of protests by bereaved families and reservist soldiers.

But these petered out after a commission, which published the report this week, was established to investigate the handling of the war.

Past protests in Tel Aviv have led to major political change.

Following the 1973 Middle East war, demonstrations in Tel Aviv helped topple then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, who were regarded as having bungled the conflict.

While most Israelis want Mr Olmert to resign, many will tell you that there is no obvious successor.

For now, the demonstrators in Tel Aviv are united.

But when asked who should be the next prime minister, many said they did not want to answer the question.

If Mr Olmert resigns, then that is bound to change.


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