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Israel’s Netanyahu attacks justice system as trial begins

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JERUSALEM (AP) — To the sounds of his impassioned supporters chanting exterior, a defiant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strode right into a Jerusalem courtroom Sunday to face corruption prices in a long-awaited trial that has overshadowed three inconclusive elections and deeply divided the nation.

As he entered the courthouse to grow to be the nation’s first sitting prime minister to go on trial, Netanyahu launched right into a prolonged tirade in opposition to the nation’s justice system wherein he accused police, prosecutors, judges and the media of a deep state-type conspiracy aimed to oust him in opposition to the desire of the folks.

“I stand earlier than you with a straight again and head raised excessive,” he said, surrounded by leading Cabinet ministers of his Likud party. “The objective is to depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years.”

The standoff, and Netanyahu’s personal fiery rhetoric, appeared to worsen the nation’s deep divisions simply after Netanyahu swore in what he known as a “unity” authorities with a former rival. Critics have mentioned Netanyahu’s repeated attacks on the authorized system danger irreplaceable injury to residents’ religion in state establishments.

Outside the courthouse, a whole lot of supporters rallied in his protection, packing a slim avenue whereas waving Israeli flags and banners denouncing what they known as a corrupt prosecution in search of to topple a pacesetter of historic proportion. Others gathered at his official residence to display in opposition to what they known as a “crime minister” and carried posters calling for his resignation. They confronted off throughout police barricades with the prime minister’s backers.

Netanyahu faces prices of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a sequence of corruption instances stemming from ties to rich mates. He is accused of accepting lavish items and providing to grant favors to highly effective media moguls in change for favorable protection of him and his household. He denies the fees, which come after years of scandals swirling across the household.

Netanyahu entered the Jerusalem courtroom sporting a blue surgical masks, following public health restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. He refused to sit down till TV cameras left the room, and remained within the entrance row all through the session.

During the proceedings, the attorneys and judges additionally wore masks, with the three-judge panel sitting behind a glass divider. In a touch of what may lie forward, his lawyer mentioned the protection would wish a number of months to check the a whole lot of reams of proof and to construct its authorized group.

Netanyahu didn’t communicate throughout the one-hour session, rising simply as soon as to verify he understood the fees. He is not going to be required to attend future hearings throughout a case that authorized analysts anticipate to stretch over a number of years. The subsequent listening to was scheduled for July 19.

Before the session, Netanyahu mentioned police and prosecutors had conspired to “tailor” a case in opposition to him, and mentioned the proof was “contaminated” and exaggerated. He known as for the court docket proceedings to be broadcast dwell on TV to make sure “full transparency.”

“While the media continues to deal with nonsense, with these false, trumped up cases, I will continue to lead the state of Israel and deal with issues that really matter to you,” he mentioned, together with to resuscitate the economic system and put together for a attainable second wave of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu is just not the primary prime minister to go on trial. His predecessor, Ehud Olmert, went to jail for corruption however resigned lengthy earlier than the trial.

Netanyahu’s fitness for workplace was the important thing concern within the three deadlocked elections over the previous 12 months. After vowing by no means to sit down with an indicted prime minister, Netanyahu’s challenger, Benny Gantz, agreed in March to type a power-sharing coalition together with his rival, partly to stop one other election.

Gantz, who has made the protection of the authorized system one his hallmarks, mentioned he was certain Netanyahu would obtain a good trial.

“I repeat and emphasize that my colleagues and I have full faith in the justice system and law enforcement,” he tweeted.

Their new authorities was sworn in simply final week for Netanyahu’s 4 consecutive time period. Netanyahu held his first Cabinet assembly with the brand new authorities simply hours earlier than heading to court docket. Neither he nor any of his ministers addressed the looming trial.

Netanyahu and his allies have spent months lashing out on the regulation enforcement system, and a brand new spherical of attacks may take a look at the brand new authorities.

Dozens of Netanyahu supporters exterior the court docket in east Jerusalem wore masks and T-shirts depicting Netanyahu as a martyr and held posters lambasting the lawyer basic who indicted him.

“We won’t allow an image of Netanyahu being humiliated,” mentioned Ran Carmi Buzaglo, one of many protesters. “The only reason that they forced him to come here, even though the law allows him to be absent, is to show an image of him in the defendant’s chair.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who just lately filed a police grievance following nameless threats in opposition to him, vowed that the case will likely be dealt with like every other — “in a professional, business-like manner and within the courtroom halls.”

“We will continue to act without fear, even against the preposterous attempts to associate non-professional interests to law enforcement agencies,” he mentioned.

Several of Netanyahu’s Likud Cabinet ministers, together with the newly appointed inside safety minister who abroad the police, got here to the court docket to again him.

Opposition chief Yair Lapid mentioned that Netanyahu’s “wild and inciteful outburst” at the courthouse was “final proof that a criminal defendant cannot continue to be prime minister.”

In an indication of the tensions, the prosecutor within the case left the courtroom accompanied by a state-issued bodyguard due to threats in opposition to her.

Under the coalition deal, Netanyahu will stay prime minister for the following 18 months, and “alternative prime minister” for the 18 months after. He is not going to be legally required to step down throughout what is predicted to be a prolonged trial.

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Associated Press author Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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