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Israel PM urges Katsav to quit before legal battle over sex crimes allegations

[JURIST] Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Israeli President Moshe Katsav [official profile] to step down Wednesday in the face of possible charges of rape and sexual harassment [JURIST report]. Haaretz quoted Olmert as saying that "In these circumstances there is no doubt in my heart that the president cannot continue to fulfill his role and must leave the President's Residence." Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was even more direct, saying in other statement quoted by Haaretz:

Moshe Katsav the person enjoys the presumption of innocence. But given the nature of the charges, the evidence and the timing of the decision, it is more appropriate that the battle over his innocence not be waged from within the President's Residence. I therefore believe resignation is the correct thing to do.
Katsav has so far refused to quit, however, and has asked a committee of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to grant him a temporary leave of absence of up to three months. This would allow him to retain some immunity from prosecution on the potential charges, which could also include abuse of power and obstruction of justice. In October 2006, Katsav refused a request from Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] to voluntarily suspend [JURIST report] his presidential duties pending a criminal investigation.

Under Israeli law, a president may be subject to prosecution only if impeached by parliament, which requires 90 of 120 total votes. Lawmakers opposed to Katsav said Wednesday they have enough signatures to convene a session to consider impeachment, and that if Katsav still refuses to resign after Wednesday, that they will initiate impeachment proceedings against him. Katsav has said he will resign if actually indicted. Police initially recommended the indictment following a three-month investigation covering at least 10 complaints against Katsav by former employees. The Israeli presidency, which Katsav has held since 2000, is largely ceremonial - most executive power is vested in the prime minister [official website]. AP has more. Haaretz has additional coverage.

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