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Large numbers of Kiryat Malakhi residents − former President Moshe Katsav’s hometown − poured into cafes there yesterday morning to watch live television coverage of the verdict in his rape case. Many expressed disappointment at the court’s decision.

“I’ve known Moshe Katsav since he was a college student in Kiryat Malakhi. I was a member of the local council when he was mayor. He took Kiryat Malakhi to new heights,” said Prosper Siluk. “With all due respect to the court, the judges are also human, and it seems to me they were influenced by the media and the women’s organizations that created a media lynch,” Siluk said. He added: “[Katsav] has worked in so many posts and did so much good in his life. A man like that doesn’t deserve to go through what he is going through.”

Another resident of the town, Tzion Asulin, expressed sorrow over the conviction: “I believe in Moshe Katsav’s innocence. This conviction is not easy for Katsav’s family or for the residents of Kiryat Malakhi. If he is guilty, it’s a very unfortunate thing. If the court accepted the evidence and decided that he is guilty, it’s shocking.”

Asulin also mused that it was unfortunate that Katsav had not accepted the plea bargain that had been offered to him earlier in the case: “He had a way out of all this and he didn’t take advantage of it.”

Another resident of Katsav’s hometown was more emphatic: “I think the court did an injustice to Moshe Katsav. He didn’t commit any crime, and he’s not guilty,” said Golan Ganan. “They created a media lynch of him, and the judges ruled the way they did because of it.”

Uriel Aryeh of nearby Moshav Yinon went to Katsav’s home in a show of support, saying that Katsav had helped him in the past.

Residents with negative views of Katsav were much harder to find.

A man named Nissim offered a counterview. He said Katsav was a person who was supposed to represent Kiryat Malakhi and the State of Israel and “if he committed rape, then he has to sit in jail. He has shamed us.”

Another local resident said: “I don’t believe he committed rape. For us, he will always be the president.”