Clashes as Ethiopian Israelis protest police brutality

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Israelis from the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem take part in a demonstration near a major junction in Jerusalem on April 30, 2015

Israelis from the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem take part in a demonstration near a major junction in Jerusalem on April 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Clashes broke out in Jerusalem on Thursday as more than 1,000 angry Ethiopian Israelis staged a protest, demanding an investigation into alleged police racism and violence.

The protest started outside the city's police headquarters with demonstrators blocking off one of the city's main traffic arteries and the light rail service, an AFP correspondent said.

Protesters waved banners reading: "Stop police brutality, stop racism" and "Today it's him, tomorrow it's you!"

They then marched towards the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where they also blocked the road before being stopped by a large number of police equipped with water cannon.

"Enough of racism!" they chanted, some of them waving Israeli flags, others holding up the Ethiopian flag.

"In Europe they kill Jews because they're Jews, here they kill Jews for being black," read one placard.

Police said the crowd hurled stones and bottles with police using anti-riot measures to keep them at bay, including tear gas and stun grenades, with 13 people injured in the confrontation.

Five demonstrators and two police officers were taken to hospital, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Jerusalem police chief Chico Edri said the police were aware of the "stormy emotions" gripping the Ethiopian community but called for everyone to act "with restraint."

The protest was sparked by a series of incidents involving alleged racism and police brutality against members of the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Earlier this week, footage emerged of two police officers violently beating an Ethiopian soldier in uniform, sparking a wave of anger within the community.

- Wave of condemnation -

Netanyahu called for calm and pledged to take action against those shown in the footage.

"I strongly condemn the beating of the Ethiopian IDF (army) soldier and those responsible will be held accountable. However, no one is allowed to take the law into their own hands," he said in a statement.

Speaking to Channel 10 television, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said those shown in the video had "brought shame on the ranks of the police."

Earlier this week, Israel's national police chief Yohanan Danino pledged a crackdown following the emergence of the footage, saying that police "would not tolerate such unacceptable behaviour."

He also pledged to set up a team to investigate the community's grievances.

President Reuven Rivlin also backed calls for an investigation.

"We cannot sit back in the face of anger and shouting -- incidents such as these must serve as a warning sign, and an opportunity to conduct some genuine and thorough introspection," he said in a statement.

More than 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated to the Jewish state in two waves in 1984 and 1991.

But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.