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Israeli president: I'm not guilty, I won't resign

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NEW: Prime minister urges Israeli president to resign
• Katsav says he will fight rape allegations "to bitter end"
President has asked for temporary leave of absence
• President says he is victim of slander and media "brainwashing"
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Lashing out at the Israeli media for "letting my blood" and "brainwashing" the Israeli public, Israeli President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday vehemently denied impending sex abuse charges and refused to resign.

"I shall fight to the very bitter end, even if it means fighting everybody to prove my innocence," Katsav said at a news conference.

He restated his pledge to "immediately" resign if he is formally indicted.

Immediately after Katsav's news conference, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined other Israeli politicians in publicly calling for the president's resignation.

"Given these circumstances, the president cannot continue to carry out his duties and will have to leave the president's residence," Olmert said. "This is a sad day for the state of Israel."

Olmert does not have the power to force Katsav to resign. The Knesset, or Israeli parliament, would have to hold impeachment hearings to force the president to permanently step down.

The controversy stems from allegations by four of Katsav's former female employees.

In the meantime, Katsav has asked the parliament's speaker to temporarily remove him from power, according to a Knesset spokeswoman. Many Knesset ministers may ask that the request be rejected so that they can push for Katsav's resignation.

The presidency is a mostly ceremonial position in Israel's government.

The embattled president also restated his belief that he is the target of slander, and blamed the Israeli media for "brainwashing" Israelis with lies.

'I was the prey, you were the hunters'

During the news conference, Katsav got into a verbal altercation with a reporter from Israel's Channel 2. He blamed the network for "letting my blood" for the past six months.

"I was the prey and you were the hunters," he said to the entire media gallery.

"Why do you try to hunt me down?" he later asked.

He also rejected the allegations, saying they go against his "moral fiber."

Katsav has been under increased pressure to step down after Israel's attorney general announced Tuesday that he had enough evidence to indict the president.

According to a statement from the justice ministry, the charges will include raping a woman who worked for him in the tourism ministry in 1998 and 1999, as well as indecent acts with use of force.

The charges will also include unlawful intercourse and indecent acts against another woman who worked with him while he was president in 2003-04, the ministry said. He could also face charges of indecent acts with abuse of power against two women who worked for him while president.

The preliminary indictment also includes charges of obstruction of justice and harassing a witness.

He will have a chance to rebut the allegations in a hearing with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz before Mazuz can proceed with the indictments.

Mazuz launched a criminal investigation of Katsav in July after a former employee alleged he forced her to have sex under the threat of dismissal.

Police repeatedly questioned Katsav at his official residence and seized personal documents.

Katsav cannot be tried while he is Israel's president. His term ends in July, and under Israeli law he is not eligible to serve a second, seven-year term.

Three months ago Mazuz recommended Katsav temporarily step down as president as he considered the charges.

Katsav was appointed president by parliament in 2000 after President Ezer Weizman resigned amid allegations of corruption.

In addition to Weizman, several Israeli prime ministers have been suspected of financial misdeeds, and a former defense minister was convicted of sexual harassment. But the allegations against Katsav would be the most serious criminal counts brought against an Israeli official.

Katsav's impending indictment comes as Israeli police investigate charges that Olmert helped one of his political supporters profit from the privatization of Israel's second-largest bank while Olmert was acting Israeli finance minister.

It also follows the resignation of Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz earlier this month for the poor prosecution of Israel's war last summer with Hezbollah, which failed in its stated goal to crush the Lebanese militia.

CNN's Michal Zippori and Shira Medding contributed to this report


Israeli President Moshe Katsav has asked to temporarirly step down, but Knesset ministers will push for his resignation.



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