Israel PM pledges shake-up to lower prices

AFP , Monday 19 Sep 2011

Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pledged "substantive change" to Israel's economy in a bid to lower prices following a summer of massive street protests over the cost of living

"I want to allow the play of free competition and limit the concentration of the economy (currently) in the hands of a select group of businesses, to reduce prices of products and services," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference on Monday.

Israel's economy is currently dominated by a handful of business barons who have substantial cross-holdings in banks, media and commerce.

Breaking up some near-monopolies and increasing market competitiveness is one of the demands of a grass-roots protest movement which has mobilised hundreds of thousands of Israelis to demonstrate against the spiralling cost of living.

His remarks were made as a competition committee set up last October delivered its interim findings. "The committee's conclusions will lead to substantive changes in the Israeli economy and to the cancellation of the situation that has prevailed for decades, of involvement and major control by a few groups," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said the committee's work, and that of another tasked with responding to protesters' specific demands, would bring about "a genuine revolution in the Israeli economy in favour of the consumer who is groaning under the illogical cost-of-living."

But the premier warned a witch-hunt against the country's biggest tycoons could boomerang. "We do not want to disrupt the functioning of businesses, which are certainly not the enemy, but on the contrary are friends, providing jobs and driving the economy," he said.

"The economy must flourish if we are to bring about social justice," he added.

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