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More Than 100,000 Protest Gaza Pullout (AP) By PETER ENAV JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/30/05 12:51 PM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49094-2005Jan30.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM - Having all but lost the political battle, more than 100,000 demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem Sunday to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s plan to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank, demanding it be put to a national referendum.

Israel TV estimated that an hour after the demonstration began, 130,000 people were gathered across from the parliament and government buildings.

The demand reflects a growing recognition by Jewish settlers and their allies that barring a last minute delay, Sharon has the political muscle to push the plan through. In all 8,500 settlers stand to be displaced in the operation, set for the summer.

Demonstrators called on Sharon to accept the referendum demand as a way of preserving Israeli unity. The slogan "Let the people decide," featured in a huge banner over the stage set up for speakers to address the crowd, and many demonstrators carried signs with the slogan.

"When an Israeli government wants to pass such a difficult process, involving the expulsion of people from their homes, it can´t do this in a fearful and capricious way, but should carry it out in a true democratic fashion so that it will might be acceptable," said Bentsi Lieberman, head of the West Bank and Gaza Settlers Council.

The Gaza pullout and exit from part of the West Bank would mark the first time an Israeli government had ever removed veteran settlements from those territories, claimed by the Palestinians for a state.

Sharon has said the "disengagement" would strengthen Israel´s hold on areas of the West Bank where most of the settlers live, but settler leaders warn that once Israel begins removing settlements, international pressure will force Israel to take down the rest of them.

Political developments seem to be working against opponents of the disengagement plan.

Earlier this month the left leaning Labor Party entered Sharon´s fragile coalition government, greatly enhancing its stability. And Sunday, a powerful religious party indicated it would not oppose the passage of the budget bill in March - effectively guaranteeing the government´s survival for the time it needs to implement the disengagement program. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/30/05)

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