Israeli president rants against 'witch hunt' in rape case
Katsav ignores calls to resign, requests temporary leave of office
In a fiery, arm-waving diatribe against the media and his accusers for what he called a "witch hunt," Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Wednesday he would not resign amid rape charges against him, but would take a temporary leave of absence.
"All of these charges are a terrible, hateful lie," Katsav said at a news conference late Wednesday, making his first public comments on the rape allegations a day after Israel's Justice Ministry recommended he be indicted on the charges.
"I'll fight even if a World War is necessary, I will fight to clear my name," he said, later vowing to citizens of Israel that "history will show this to be a witch hunt."
He added that "McCarthyism is alive and well in Israel," and at one point brokefrom his speech to single out and lambaste specific members of the media.
By stepping down temporarily, the president stopped short of resigning, which would deprive him of the immunity he has while in office.
The rape charges stem from complaints from four women who worked for Katsav.
With his term set to end in July, calls for Katsav to resign have been growing.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday issued a statement saying he shouldn't "be waging the battle to prove his innocence from the president's office."
Livni also serves as foreign minister.
The small opposition Meretz party said it would seek parliamentary backing to launch impeachment proceedings against the 61-year-old Katsav.
Legislator Zehava Galon of Meretz said Katsav should have immediately resigned on Tuesday when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz confirmed his intention to indict the president.
She said she would start collecting the 20 legislators' signatures necessary to convene an impeachment debate in parliament, without waiting for Katsav's statement.
In Israel, the post of president is largely ceremonial. Under Israeli law, a president can't be put on trial while in office. If Katsav is formally indicted, he would become Israel's first sitting president to be charged with a crime.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also under investigation for alleged influence peddling surrounding the sale of his Jerusalem home and an alleged attempt to boost the bidding in the 2005 sale of a state-owned bank.
He has denied those allegations.
With files from the Associated Press