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News websites around the world gave prominent coverage yesterday to the conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, indecent assault and sexual molestation. CNN’s most viewed story on its website for a time was coverage of the case.

The New York Times website, which is considered highly influential in the United States, noted what was seen as Katsav’s mistake, not accepting an earlier offer of a plea bargain. Katsav’s preference, the paper said, of trying to prove his innocence was “a gamble that appears to have ended disastrously.”

In Britain, the Guardian’s website didn’t give the court’s verdict as much prominence as did American news organizations, but the story was among the top 10 of most viewed articles on the site. The BBC site made the Katsav case its lead story, but commented that the verdict had marginal political significance.

The story got big play on European news websites in Italy, France and Switzerland, which featured photos of Katsav in court. The news sites gave wide coverage to the Israeli legal system and to the fact that in Israel, even a head of state is not immune from prosecution.

Spain’s leading daily, El Pais, Portugal’s Diaro da Noticias and Switzerland’s Le Temps, all gave the story big play.

The Italian press highlighted the story, perhaps out of identification with Israel in light of allegations of misconduct against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is accused of corruption. The Italian press broke the story of the Katsav verdict minutes after the court in Tel Aviv announced it.

In Germany, too, the conviction of the former president received major media attention. News websites, including those of Die Zeit and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, covered the rape and sexual molestation conviction in detail. Die Zeit included a biographical profile of Katsav as an Iranian-born Jew who was involved in politics his entire adult life and rose to the post of president.