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Tens of thousands protest against planned Israeli judicial overhaul

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Israelis joined protests across the country, now entering their 20th week, on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's contested plans to tighten controls on the Supreme Court.

The planned overhaul, which would give the government control over naming judges to the Supreme Court and let parliament override many rulings, was paused after opponents organised some of the biggest street protests ever seen in Israel.

The government accuses activist judges of increasingly usurping the role of parliament, and says the overhaul is needed to restore balance between the judiciary and elected politicians.

Critics say it will remove vital checks and balances underpinning a democratic state and hand unchecked power to the government.

A sea of blue and white Israeli flags, which have become a symbol of the protests, coated a central highway in Tel Aviv. Protestors chanted, "Israel is almost a dictatorship," as a banner reading "stop them" was held up by the crowd.

"It scares me that we are still a few hours away at any given moment from turning from a democracy to a dictatorship," Sagi Mizrahi, a 40-year-old computer programmer told Reuters in Tel Aviv. "I'm here because of the judicial system and the laws that are still sitting on the table, it's just scary."

Protests garnered lower attendance last Saturday as a truce between Israel and the militant Islamic Jihad group officially came into effect, ending a five-day escalation which was the worst episode of cross-border fire since a 10-day war in 2021. Protests seemed to have been invigorated with Hebrew media estimating some 90,000-100,000 in attendance.

The police force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Gradually, myself my kids and my grandkids are losing the hope to live here in a democratic state and to have a normal life like every person deserves," Hava Golan, 65 year-old biology professor said.

(Reporting by Emily Rose, Editing by Louise Heavens)