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Israeli foreign minister resigns, joins opposition

Two-term Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has snubbed PM Netanyahu's coalition, opting to abandon his ally in favor of the opposition. The prime minister has until Wednesday to cobble together a larger majority.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a difficult start to the week on Monday as he struggled to build a coalition by the Wednesday deadline while also addressing increasing concerns over racism within Israeli police forces.

Avigdor Lieberman, two-term foreign minister and longtime Netanyahu ally, announced he would resign from his position as top diplomat and remove his secular, right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party from the coalition after Netanyahu began courting ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu has a slim majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and without a larger coalition will be susceptible to the demands of partners.

"Our dilemma was between principles or seats, I am happy that we decided to keep our principles and give up our seats," Lieberman told his party, a hardline Zionist group created mostly in the interest of Russian-speaking immigrants. Lieberman himself was born in the Moldova, then part of the Soviet Union.

Last week Netanyahu's Likud party signed a coalition agreement with the religiously conservative United Torah Judaism party and is expected to follow suit this week with Shas, a similarly ultra-Orthodox group. These partnerships upset the nonreligious Lieberman, whose fiery rhetoric against Palestine has often agitated his partners in government.


Netanyahu vows to tackle racial bias

While Netanyahu did not say who would succeed Lieberman as foreign minister, on Monday he did address increasing racial tension that began after a video surfaced showing Tel Aviv police assaulting Damas Pakada, a uniformed soldier of Ethiopian descent.

The video led hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis to protest police brutality and discrimination Sunday. The demonstration turned violent when some of the marchers hurled stones and bottles while attempting to storm the Tel Aviv municipality building. Police responded with tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades. In total, around 20 protesters and the same number of police were injured.

"We must stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it," Netanyahu said, saying he was shocked by the images of Pakada's assault. "We cannot accept this," the prime minister added, promising swift change to address racial bias in policing.

Commissioner Yohanan Danino issued an apology to Pakada on behalf of the police and said at least one of the two officers seen beating Pakada had been relieved of duty: "When I saw the video, which speaks for itself, we immediately fired the police officer."

es/jil (AP, AFP)

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