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Israel: violent clashes among Eritrean demonstrators

Israeli police arrest an Eritrean asylum seeker demonstrating at an event organised by the Eritrean government in Tel Aviv, 2 September 2023.   -  
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JACK GUEZ/AFP or licensors


On Saturday, a violent clash unfolded in Tel Aviv between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government, resulting in numerous injuries and widespread destruction. This incident marked one of the most intense confrontations witnessed among African asylum seekers and migrants in the city's recent history.

Among the casualties were 30 police officers and three demonstrators who were struck by police gunfire. Both sides, consisting of Eritrean nationals, armed themselves with construction materials, pieces of metal, rocks, and even an axe, wreaking havoc in a neighbourhood where many asylum seekers reside. Protesters vandalized shopfronts and police vehicles, leaving bloodstains on the side walks. In a chilling scene, a government supporter lay injured in a pool of blood within a children's playground.

Israeli law enforcement, clad in riot gear, responded with tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunition. Mounted officers attempted to restore order as protesters breached barricades and hurled rocks at the police. Authorities stated that live ammunition was used only when officers believed their lives were at risk. Initially, both Eritrean government supporters and opponents had obtained permission for separate events on Saturday and had committed to keeping their gatherings apart.

By late Saturday afternoon, the clashes had ceased, but police continued to detain protesters, placing them on buses for further processing. Notably, anti-government demonstrators wore sky blue shirts featuring Eritrea's 1952 flag, symbolizing their opposition to the country's government. In contrast, government supporters donned purple shirts adorned with a map of Eritrea.

It's important to note that Eritreans constitute the majority of the over 30,000 African asylum seekers residing in Israel. These clashes occurred concurrently with Eritrean government supporters commemorating the 30th anniversary of their current leader's rise to power near the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv, while opponents were permitted to hold a separate event.

Despite assurances that both sides would remain separated during their events, these commitments were eventually broken, according to Chaim Bublil, a Tel Aviv police commander. Eritrea has a notorious reputation for its abysmal human rights record, a fact that fuels the fears of asylum seekers in Israel and other countries who dread the prospect of returning to their homeland.

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