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The Israeli prime minister's trial has kicked off, but he said he is only there as part of a conspiracy to "depose a strong, right-wing leader." Benjamin Netanyahu is accused of fraud and bribery.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a tirade on his nation's justice system as his corruption trial began Sunday. Netanyahu accused police and prosecutors of working together to try to "depose" him from his role.
The corruption trial has been long-awaited in Israel, having been postponed from mid-March owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The accusations were first made three years ago.
The career politician, who was sworn in as prime minister for the fifth time last Sunday, said the charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery amount to an "attempted coup."
He is accused of accepting gifts from influential friends and granting favors to media moguls in exchange for positive coverage of him.
Crowds gathered outside the courtroom, with protesters describing him as the "crime minister" while supportive members of his Likud party rallied to support him. Netanyahu, wearing a blue surgical mask, addressed members of the media as he arrived at the courthouse.
"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," he said. He said police, prosecutors and the media were working together to "tailor" and "contaminate" the case.
The Israeli public is seeing its prime minister in the dock for the first time as Benjamin Netanyahu's long-awaited corruption trial begins. The case against him has divided the country.
Trial set to last months
The controversial trial does not show signs of reaching any conclusions soon. Netanyahu was forced to attend Sunday's proceedings after his request to be represented by his lawyers was rejected.
His lawyers said they would need two to three months to respond to the arraignment and also said they needed additional funds for their defense's legal time. The prime minister himself only spoke to confirm his identity and the day's proceedings wrapped up after around an hour.
Netanyahu also called for the trial to be broadcast live on TV to ensure "full transparency" amid the alleged conspiracy to remove him.
Fit for office?
The question of whether Netanyahu is fit for office has been a defining factor in all three of the inconclusive elections that took place in Israel over the last twelve months.
Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's main rival, eventually entered a power-sharing coalition earlier in May. Netanyahu chaired the first cabinet meeting of the new coalition hours before heading to court.
Gantz wrote on Twitter that he has "complete confidence in the justice system." Netanyahu's government received backlash for suspending courts in March just as his trial was due to get underway.
His participation in the trial will not disqualify Netanyahu from his role as prime minister.
ed/rc (AP, AFP)