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BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel: Israelis protesting judicial reforms sought by the hard-right government threatened to converge on the country’s main airport on Thursday (Mar 9)to disrupt a trip abroad by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a visit by the US defence secretary.

Police were out in force in and around Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, where Israeli media said Netanyahu and his retinue had come in the early morning in order to evade possible sit-down demonstrations on the highway from Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s spokespeople did not immediately comment on the whereabouts of the prime minister, who was scheduled to depart in the afternoon for a two-day visit to Rome.

Protest organisers had called for their airport disruptions to begin mid-morning as part of what they have dubbed “A Day of Resistance”.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin had been due to visit Israel on Wednesday as part of a regional tour. But he postponed his arrival to Thursday and, rather than travel to Israel’s Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, was due to meet Netanyahu near Ben-Gurion.

Netanyahu, a conservative who began a sixth term in December at the head of a nationalist-religious coalition, says his plan to curb the Supreme Court will restore balance between the branches of government.

Critics worry that Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – seeks to subordinate the judiciary to the executive. Opinion polls have shown the plan is unpopular with most Israelis who would prefer that a compromise be reached.

Two Israeli law professors, Yuval Elbashan and Daniel Friedman, this week circulated proposals for amended reforms.

Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and two ministers gave the draft a preliminary welcome. But leaders of the opposition said they would not countenance it unless Netanyahu stops the ratification process first.

In Jerusalem, a group of protesters used sandbags and barbed wired to barricade the offices of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think-tank that has advocated for the government reforms, Reuters video showed.

The protests have been going on for weeks, with sometimes violent confrontations with police. Though yet to become law, the reforms have already affected the shekel and drawn concern among some Western allies about the health of Israeli democracy.