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Katsav blasts authorities, press

NEW YORK (JTA) — Moshe Katsav accused Israeli authorities and the press of a "witch hunt," and emphasized his innocence on sex charges.

The former Israeli president blasted Attorney General Menahem Mazuz and the law enforcement establishment during a 2 1/2-hour news conference Thursday in Kiryat Malachi.

Mazuz had announced Sunday that he was ready to indict Katsav on rape and indecent assault charges against several women who worked closely with him when he served as tourism minister and president, as well as obstruction of justice.

"The attorney general, State Prosecution and Israel Police have crossed every red line," Katsav told reporters. "My noose is Mazuz’s lifeline."

Stressing his innocence, Katsav said, "I can look every Israeli citizen in the eye and say that during 40 years of my public service, and especially during my term as president, I acted honestly, responsibly, lawfully and faithfully."

He said the authorities and the press were carrying out a "lynch and a witch hunt" against him.

Katsav was first accused in 2006 and stepped down as president shortly before his term ended in June 2007. He was replaced by Shimon Peres.

Katsav struck a plea deal in June 2007 under which the rape charges would be dropped, but last April he reneged on the deal.

At the news conference, he said all the severe accusations against him "fell apart" in the plea bargain, which Katsav said he had agreed to reluctantly.

"So I said, ‘To hell with it, I’ll go to trial and prove my innocence,’ " he said at the news conference.

In a response to Katsav’s claims, Israel’s Justice Ministry said the news conference was a "sequence of false claims" and a "distortion" of the facts.

Following the news conference, Katsav’s media advisers resigned, citing differences of opinion over the news conference.

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