- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

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

Mr. Katsav, 61, asked parliament to 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 Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Katsav’s request to stand down temporarily.

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

At a stormy, nationally televised speech at his official residence last night, Mr. Katsav professed his innocence and accused the police and the press 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,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Katsav said he would resign if officially indicted. “I will not stay in this house for one more second. I will resign,” he pledged.

The president, who was born in Iran, implied the charges were motivated by racism against Israelis of Middle Eastern origin, who have traditionally been marginalized here.

His wife, Gila, sat softly crying in the audience.

Pressure quickly mounted on Mr. 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.

In an effort to blunt the protests, Mr. Katsav asked parliament yesterday to grant him a leave of absence, which could last up to three months.

Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter brushed off the suggestion, saying Mr. Katsav “must not cling to the post, not even for a few months.”

A parliamentary committee will meet today to discuss the request, but committee members appeared to be leaning toward recommending impeachment.

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