Katsav blames media for rape claim

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The Independent Online

An emotional Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, sought to face down mounting clamour for his resignation yesterday and merely suspended himself pending final confirmation of a decision to indict him on rape and sexual harassment charges.

Mr Katsav launched a tirade against the "media lynch", that he claimed lay behind the accusations and pleaded with Israelis not to believe the "terrible lie" that he had raped a woman who worked for him and committed sexual offences against three female employees. Earlier, the President had announced that he was declaring himself temporarily "incapacitated" in the face of the stated intention of Menachem Mazuz, the Attorney General, to indict him for the sexual offences and for fraud, breach of trust, witness harassment and obstruction of justice. The move means the President will cease for the time being to carry out his largely ceremonial duties.

In a lengthy speech of self-defence during which he frequently denounced the journalists present for seeking to hound him from office, the 61-year-old, who has five children, repeated his promise to resign if the Attorney General confirms the indictment, after a hearing, and not to hide behind the immunity of his office. His term as President is due to end in five months.

This is unlikely to mollify all of those critics calling on him to resign immediately. Their ranks were swelled yesterday by resignation calls from two influential ministers in the ruling Kadima Party, the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, and the Interior Minister, Avi Dichter.

About 30 Knesset members signed a petition yesterday calling for proceedings to remove him from office. The votes of three-quarters of the KnessetÕs 120 legislators would be needed to implement such a call. Saying that he might have been inclined to resign to end his "persecution", the Iranian-born President pledged to clear his name. "I have survived because I know the truth," he declared. "In the court of the media there is no need for proof."

When a television reporter attempted to interrupt with a question the President angrily shouted at him: "You have had your say, itÕs my turn... I did not do any of the deeds of which I am accused. I have conducted my public office with clean hands throughout."

It follows the entirely separate announcement of a police investigation into the role of the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in the privatisation of the Bank Leumi.

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