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Israel's President Asks to Temporarily Step Aside

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who is facing indictment on rape and other charges, says he will ask Israel's parliament to allow him to temporarily step down from his ceremonial post, and will immediately resign his position if formal charges of rape and abuse of power are brought against him. VOA's Jim Teeple reports, pressure is mounting on Mr. Katsav to immediately resign.

Moshe Katsav met with journalists to proclaim his innocence on charges of rape and abuse of power. Mr. Katsav called the charges against him lies, saying he was the victim of a vicious attack by the Israeli media and elements in Israel's law enforcement community.

Israel's attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, says he has the evidence to indict Mr. Katsav and could bring further charges - such as obstruction of justice and receiving illegal gifts at a later date. The charges are based on complaints made by four women who worked for the veteran politician.

While proclaiming his innocence at his news conference, Israel's president said he is asking parliament, the Knesset, to allow him to temporarily leave his position to fight the charges against him.

Israel's president says he will resign from his position if he is indicted.

Under Israeli law Mr. Katsav is allowed one opportunity to present his case at a hearing before a formal indictment is issued.

Israel's president enjoys immunity from prosecution and can only be tried in criminal court if he resigns, if he is impeached by three-quarters of Israel's parliament or after his seven-year term ends later this year.

There are growing calls for him to resign. Speaking after Mr. Katsav's news conference, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said he should resign, saying Mr. Katsav could not fulfill his official duties under the present circumstances.

Earlier in the day, Tzipi Livni, who is Israel's foreign and justice minister, said Mr. Katsav should be presumed innocent unless and until he is found guilty, but he should not fight his case from the president's office.

Mr. Katsav is a longtime member of the right-of-center Likud Party who began his term in 2000. Left-wing members of Israel's parliament say they have the necessary 20 votes required to bring impeachment charges. Ninety votes are needed to remove him from office.

The charges are the most serious ever faced by an Israeli politician. If he is convicted in a criminal court, Mr. Katsav could face more than 20 years in prison.