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Hundreds of people demonstrated yesterday opposite a Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce conference in Haifa at which Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was speaking. The demonstrators were protesting recent price increases and policies that they say harm the poor.

Some of the protesters clashed with police, and four were arrested.

The demonstration, organized by various nonprofit groups, was also joined by dozens of social workers, who protested their working conditions. The social workers union has threatened to strike on Sunday if the government doesn't meet its demands.

Demonstrators bore signs demanding the ouster of Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They also burned an effigy labeled "the transparent citizen."

"In Egypt and Tunisia, they set themselves on fire to protest the economic situation," one explained. "For now, we're setting effigies on fire."

Binyamin Gonen, a veteran union activist, said he was certain the demonstration "could be the start of a true protest that would influence the decision-makers. A month ago, no one believed Egypt and Tunisia would succeed in making a change, but they did."

Pesach Hausfater, head of Dror Israel, one of the groups that organized the protest, charged that Netanyahu and Steinitz "think we're idiots" - that they can cut fund for schools, hospitals and "everyplace a state ought to take care of its citizens, and we won't understand that it's a deliberate plan to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. But this time, they went too far, and they'll pay a very large price."