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Israelis Rally Against Religious Discrimination

An Ultraorthodox Jewish man (left) argues with a secular man during a protest against the government's pledge to curb Jewish zealotry in Israel, in the town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, on December 26.
Some 10,000 Israelis have attended a demonstration against the discrimination of women and against religious fanaticism.

The protest in Beit Shemesh, southwest of Jerusalem, comes amid growing tensions after a television program on December 23 showed an 8-year-old girl being spat upon by Ultraorthodox believers, who had decided she was not dressed modestly enough.

The incident was filmed in Beit Shemesh, which has a large Ultraorthodox population. It was followed by two days of rioting by Ultraorthodox extremists in the city.

Speaking in Jerusalem before the protest, Israeli President Shimon Peres urged Israelis to attend the protest in order to show solidarity against discrimination.

"Nobody has the right to threaten a girl, or a woman, or anybody for that matter," he said.

"They are not the rulers of the land, we are all citizens of this land and there is no one group that decides that it controls, not in one place nor in another."

Israel's president, whose duties are largely ceremonial, normally avoids taking a political stance.

The demonstration was organized by pro-democracy and equality activists.

compiled from agency reports