Eight wounded as Druze protest turns violent

Tel Aviv, Israel - Seven policemen and a demonstrator were wounded when a protest by Israeli Druze outside the prime minister's office turned violent on Sunday, police said.

Hundreds of Israel's minority Druze population gathered in central Jerusalem to demand better treatment from the government, pelting police with eggs and shouting slogans in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian.

"Equality for Druze and Jews," and "No to racism," were among the calls from the crowd, which a police spokesman estimated at 800 people.

Security forces said they had begun talks with Druze leaders, who had a permit for the protest, in the early hours with the hope of forestalling violence.

But some demonstrators seemed to have arrived prepared for an altercation, with Druze youths seen passing forward crates of eggs before bombarding a cordon of policemen ranged three-deep behind a concrete barrier.

Police said they responded when other objects, including a bottle, were thrown.

Officers leapt the low wall and battled demonstrators with truncheons, arresting three in the ensuing brawl. All those injured were treated at the scene, the spokesman said.

During the fighting, several politicians, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, addressed the throng in an effort to bring calm -- but without success.

Israel's Druze, who according to government statistics number 104,000, claim authorities have misallocated budgets at their expense and failed to invest in Druze-populated areas in Israel's north.

Followers of a breakaway sect of Shiite Islam and concentrated in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, the Druze are not considered Muslims by most of the Islamic world and Israel's Druze have long been supportive of the Jewish state.