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Israel’s Netanyahu rejects calls to resign

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JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls to step down yesterday after police recommended his indictment for corruption, the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier’s long tenure in power.

Mr Netanyahu again came out swinging yesterday morning, harshly criticising the police investigation against him while making clear he has no intention of resigning.

His governing coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history, appears firm for now, but reactions from key members in the coming days will be watched closely for signs of fissures.

“I can reassure you that the coalition is stable,” Mr Netanyahu said at an event in Tel Aviv.

“Neither me nor anyone else has plans for elections. We’re going to continue to work together for the good of Israeli citizens until the end of the term.”

Mr Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of nearly 12 years, also denounced the police recommendations against him as “full of holes, like Swiss cheese”.He said the police report “misleads” and is “contrary to the truth and logic”.

Police recommended on Tuesday that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust after a long-running investigation. The attorney general must now decide how to move forward with the case, a process that could take months.

A prime minister facing such police recommendations or who has been formally charged is not obliged to resign.

As it became clear police were to issue the recommendations on Tuesday night, Mr Netanyahu gave a televised address to the nation, proclaiming his innocence and criticising the police.

Ministers close to him also defended Mr Netanyahu.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labour party, said the “Netanyahu era is over” and called on him to step down. “He is unworthy to continue to be prime minister of Israel. It’s very simple,” Mr Gabbay said in a video interview with the Ynet news site.

Tzipi Livni, part of the main opposition Zionist Union alliance that also includes Labour, criticised what she called a campaign to undermine the police.

But a key coalition minister made clear yesterday he was remaining in the government, though he also criticised him.

“A prime minister is not meant to be perfect or live an over-modest lifestyle, but he needs to be someone people look at and say: ‘This is how one should act’,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said.

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