More than 100 people have been injured in clashes between rival groups of protesters from Eritrea in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv with the police firing warning shots in the air to disperse the demonstrators.
Fighting broke out on Saturday after hundreds of Eritreans critical of their government approached a venue where a pro-government event was being held.
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Protesters broke through police barriers and smashed windows of police and other cars as well as windows of nearby stores, the Haaretz newspaper reported. They were also able to enter the venue near the Eritrean embassy and smash up chairs and tables.
Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical service, said it treated 114 people, eight of whom were in serious condition.
Footage on social media showed Eritrean government supporters beating anti-government protesters with clubs. Reuters journalists saw men with head wounds and bloodied arms, some lying on the ground of a children’s playground.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said the police did not anticipate the intensity of the violence that broke out.
“The demonstrators were able to break through the barriers pretty rapidly. The police had to respond with tear gas, stun grenades. There were running battles between the demonstrators and the police in riot equipment,” he said.
“At least 30 police officers were injured in the clashes,” Brennan said, adding that there are questions if the police could have better responded.
Police said they arrested 39 suspects “who assaulted police and threw stones” at officers. Some of them were carrying weapons, tear gas and an electrical stun gun, officers said.
Police added they were reinforcing their personnel in the area as fighting between Eritreans and police and between supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government was reported to be continuing elsewhere in south Tel Aviv.
President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has ruled Eritrea since it gained independence in 1991. Asmara has never held elections. Political parties are banned, and freedom of expression and the press are heavily restricted.
There is neither a parliament nor independent courts or civil society organisations. In addition, there is strict mandatory military service and a forced labour system, from which many Eritreans flee abroad.
The anti-government demonstrators had previously asked the police to cancel the pro-government event, which was organised by Eritrea’s embassy, which they accuse of trying to monitor and track them.
“There are stark divisions among the nearly 20,000 Eritreans based in Israel. Critics of the regime describe it as the North Korea of Africa,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.
“In 2019, a pro-president supporter was stabbed and beaten to death in Tel Aviv by three people opposed to the president.”