Second Israeli dies in self-immolation welfare protest

JERUSALEM Wed Aug 1, 2012 11:39am BST

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A second Israeli who set himself on fire in protest at economic difficulties has died of his injuries, the hospital treating him said on Wednesday.

Akiva Mafi, a 45-year-old, wheelchair-bound army veteran, doused his body in petrol and lit it at a bus station on July 22, after what friends described as a debilitating battle for welfare benefits.

He was the second such fatality after Moshe Silman, a debt-ridden member of a grassroots movement to lower the cost of living in Israel, self-immolated during a July 14 demonstration in Tel Aviv and died two weeks later.

Silman, 57, left a note accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative government of "taking from the poor and giving to the rich". Local media later reported similar suicide bids among others suffering economic hardship.

Speaking on Israeli television after his cabinet approved a controversial new package of tax increases and spending cuts on Tuesday, Netanyahu described the self-immolations as tragic but cautioned against "drawing conclusions about the overall populace," which he argued had been spared deeper fiscal crises.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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