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"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," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday night. "This is a sad day for the State of Israel."

Olmert, who made the remarks prior to delivering his speech at the Herzliya Conference, refrained from explicitly calling on President Moshe Katsav to resign.Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told delegates to the Herzliya Conference on Wednesday that he had no doubt that President Moshe Katsav could not continue to serve in his position, following Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to indict him on a string of charges including rape.

The prime minister spoke shortly after Katsav addressed the media at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter called on the president to apologize to the police for accusing them during his press conference of joining media efforts to slur his name.

"The president has villified the 28,000 officers who work day and night for the sake of security," he said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Dichter earlier in the day joined the growing calls for Katsav to resign immediately.

"I am convinced that resigning is the appropriate thing [for Katsav] to do at this time," said Livni.

"From a legal standpoint, Moshe Katsav the individual is indeed presumed innocent," Livni added. "However, in this case, given the nature of the accusations, their severity and the timing of the decision, it is more appropriate for him to conduct his fight [to prove] his innocence from outside of the President's Residence."

"That's enough, Mr. Moshe Katsav - don't hide behind incapacitation," said Dichter in a statement, which called on "Katsav to resign immediately from his position as president."

According to Dichter, the attorney general's decision has both legal and public significance. "The public significance obligates the president to resign and conduct his struggle without the presidential title, not even as an incapacitated president," said Dichter. "The presidency must not be stained, not even for a few months."

The blame Katsav placed on the media, the attorney general and the police awakened fierce reactions in the Knesset.

Knesset panel likely to approve Katsav suspension requestThe Knesset House Committee is expected to approve Katsav's request to declare himself temporarily incapacitated for a period of three months.

A regular majority - 13 out of 25 - is needed to approve a suspension request.

Haaretz learned Wednesday that at least 13 members of the committee were set to vote in favor of Katsav's request.

Earlier, it had appeared as though a majority could not be reached in support of the president, but some MKs said they were swayed due to Katsav's performance during the press conference.

As soon as the committee concludes deliberations on Katsav's request, it will address for the first time in Israel's history a motion to force the president to resign.

According to law, a request to begin resignation proceedings must be approved by 75 percent of committee members - 19 of 25 committee members. The committee apparently does not have majority support in favor of this motion. As of now, only 12 MKs have expressed support for forcing the president to resign.

Katsav's move to suspend himself had earlier been expected to face opposition from lawmakers, who have increasingly called for the president to resign over the charges he is facing, including rape and sexual harassment.

Some 30 Knesset members signed a petition Wednesday calling on the Knesset House Committee to begin proceedings to remove Katsav from office, which the House Committee will also discuss.

Meretz faction whip Zahava Gal-On, Labor faction whip Yoram Marciano and Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich submitted the request to Avraham shortly after the president announced plans to declare himself temporarily incapacitated.

Avraham said it was not yet clear if the committee would vote on the MKs' request during Thursday's deliberations. At present, committee members said, there is no majority to approve Katsav's request.

Mazuz's announcement has provoked a spate of demands, from both the political world and the general public, that Katsav resign immediately, and not quit only if Mazuz stands by his decision to indict.

Should Katsav fail to resign, Knesset faction representatives said, the chances of gaining the required support of 90 MKs to remove Katsav from office will increase, Knesset faction representatives said Tuesday.

After Katsav speech, MKs renew calls for resignationThe chairman of the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, MK Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), said "although a man should not be judged at his darkest hours, we cannot ignore the tongue-lashing the president had given to the legal authorities. He used the public stage to taunt the public messengers who cannot respond."

Mk Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that during his speech, the president demonstrated that the best method of defense is attack, and on the way trampled on the foundations of democracy, from the media to the attorney general.

"Every additional minute Katsav sits in his seat is a disgrace," said Cohen.

Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said, "Katsav horrifying performance proves that this man cannot serve even one more day, and must resign immediately."

Earlier Wednesday, Hadash and Ra'am-Ta'al factions announced that they would support removing the president from office should he fail to resign immediately.

In addition, a majority of Labor MKs had announced they would support removing the president from office should he fail to suspend himself.

Likud faction whip Gideon Sa'ar said he is of the opinion that, given the current circumstances, the president should resign.

Olmert held an urgent meeting Wednesday for Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima), who will fill in for Katsav should he suspend himself. Itzik intends to carry out her duties from the Knesset, and will go to the President's Residence solely for ceremonies.

The Prime Minister's Office had said that Olmert would not express a stance on whether Katsav should resign prior to the president's press conference.

Should the president announce Wednesday that he wishes to suspending himself and asks the House Committee to approve his request, the committee's chairman Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham will hold a hearing on the matter Thursday.

Tamir: Katsav must resign, his picture his hanging in every schoolEducation Minister Yuli Tamir said, "in the present situation it is impossible to educate students to respect the presidential insitution and ask them to hang pictures in every school of a president charged with grave offenses."

Katsav must resign immediately so as "not to embarass the students and the people in the education system," added Tamir.

MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that Mazuz's decision to indictment "does not leave President Katsav with a single moment of grace in his position. He must resign immediately, now that he has humiliated the institution of the presidency and the public."

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) also called on the president to resign immediately, to "put an end to the disgraceful spectacle of a suspect charged with such grave offenses continuing to stand at the head of the presidential institution."

The chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party), said the recommendation for indictment marked "a sad day for the state and its citizens, as well as for the institution of presidency."

The National Religious Party-National Union made an official call for the president to fulfill his obligation and resign immediately from his position.

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) called the charges against the president a grave matter, and said too much consideration had been given to the president's feelings since the case first came to light.

"We must remember that as long as the president continues in his role... it will be impossible actually to serve the indictment. The Knesset must take action and dismiss the president immediately," she said.

Meanwhile, Channel 10 television reported Tuesday that Katsav did not plan to resign Tuesday night, despite the announcement of the impending indictment against him.

David Mena, a friend of Katsav's, told Channel 2 he had hope that the grave charges against the president would be dropped.

"I think that in the end things will become clear, and I don't think it will be what was announced today. I'm sure the indictment will be softened."

More on the case against KatsavRelated links

  • Katsav expected to suspend himself over rape indictment
  • Sources: Peres has not ruled out joining race for presidency
  • Dalia Itzik poised to become first woman in Israeli presidency

    From our pages

  • Katsav takes short leave of absence; probe turns to wire-tapping (14/09/06)
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  • Katsav succumbs to pressure, cancels Knesset appearance (16/10/06)