Katsav deal angers Israelis

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JERUSALEM (AP) — A plea bargain that would allow Israel”s former president to avoid rape charges and jail time has drawn a fierce public backlash, with protests in Tel Aviv and a Supreme Court appeal yesterday that have put the deal in doubt.

The plea bargain between prosecutors and Moshe Katsav, who stepped down as Israel”s ceremonial leader yesterday, would allow him to plead guilty to lesser counts of sexual harassment and receive a suspended sentence.

In January, Attorney General Meni Mazuz said he was planning to file rape charges that could carry a 20-year prison term. Now, Katsav“s critics fear the deal will allow him to fade quietly away, insisting that he signed the deal only to relieve the strain on his family, with the gravest charges buried.

Four women who worked for Katsav charged that he repeatedly groped them, kissed them, exposed himself to them and — in two cases — raped them while he served as president and earlier, when he was tourism minister.

Katsav has said he was the victim of a witch hunt. He stepped aside in January to fight the charges but refused to resign until the plea bargain forced him to do so, two weeks before his term was due to end.

Dropping the most serious charges infuriated women”s rights activists and led to a hastily organized demonstration in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night, which drew a surprisingly large crowd of about 20,000.

Yesterday, three women”s rights groups filed separate appeals to the Supreme Court, which then ordered the plea bargain frozen for at least 24 hours.

Columns in Israeli papers slammed the deal with near unanimity.

A poll by the Dahaf Research Institute published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily showed that 73 percent thought justice was not served.

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