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Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2007

President rejects rape charges

January 25, 2007

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— Shaking with fury, Israeli President Moshe Katsav rebuffed growing calls for his resignation Wednesday, saying accusations he committed rape and other crimes were "poisonous, horrible lies" that were part of a broad conspiracy against him.

Katsav asked parliament to temporarily suspend him from office while he fought to clear his name. But momentum was building for lawmakers to open unprecedented impeachment proceedings against the president, and top officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, urged Katsav to stop clinging to office and allow the nation to heal.

"Under these circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind that the president cannot continue to fulfill his position and he must leave the president's residence," Olmert said.

Impeachment requires a three-fourths majority in parliament, and analysts said that might be difficult to achieve. In contrast, a majority in a parliamentary committee could approve Katsav's request to stand down temporarily.

The presidency, a mainly ceremonial post, was traditionally filled by statesmen and national heroes who were expected to serve as the moral light of the country. Accusations that Katsav used his position to force himself on female employees have infuriated Israelis.

At a stormy, nationally televised speech at his official residence Wednesday night, Katsav professed his innocence and accused the police and media of working together to bring him down, using terms like "witch hunt" and "McCarthyism." He angrily pounded the podium and his voice cracked during a rambling diatribe that lasted nearly an hour.

"Don't believe the libel, the defamation, the lies. There is only one truth ... I am the target of one of the worst attacks in the history of the state of Israel," Katsav said, gesturing with a pointed finger, pounding on the podium and shouting at a reporter. He pledged to "fight to my last breath, even if it means a world war, to clear my name."

He refused to answer questions from reporters in his first appearance before them since the scandal broke six months ago.

Pressure quickly mounted on Katsav to step down after Attorney General Meni Mazuz announced Tuesday that he plans to indict him on rape, sexual assault, abuse of power and other charges.

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