Thousands of protesters outraged over a plea bargain that spared President Moshe Katsav rape charges and possible jail time gathered in Tel Aviv's main square Saturday night to demand he stand trial.
On Thursday, Attorney General Meni Mazuz announced that he would indict Katsav on lesser counts of indecent acts, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice — a reversal of his original plan to press rape and other sexual assault charges that could have sent Katsav to jail for 20 years if he had been convicted.
"There's no such thing as rape lite," read one of the posters hoisted by the crowd, which included leading female politicians.
Protest organizers estimated that 20,000 people flocked to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.
"We are asking to hear the evidence. We don't demand mercy, we demand justice," said Yael Dayan, a former lawmaker and prominent Israeli women's rights advocate. "We are calling on the courts to have the courage not to approve the deal."
The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court will be asked on Sunday to authorize the agreement.
As part of the deal, Katsav resigned on Friday, two weeks before his seven-year term was to expire. The resignation takes effect on Sunday, clearing the way for his immediate indictment.
Katsav will receive a suspended prison sentence and be required to pay damages to two of his four accusers, all former female employees.
The four women, who worked with Katsav either in the president's office or when he was tourism minister in the late 1990s, painted a picture of a predatory boss who repeatedly used his authority over female employees to force sexual favors.
Many in the crowd wanted Mazuz to resign for failing to put the president on trial.
Earlier in the day, the attorney general told Channel 2 TV that Katsav had behaved like a serial sex offender, but most of the allegations against him referred to events that couldn't be brought to court under Israel's statute of limitations. He also said conflicting testimony from witnesses would make it hard to ensure a guilty verdict on rape charges.
Katsav, who painted himself as the victim of a witch hunt, stepped aside in January to fight the charges but refused to resign. Parliament Speaker Dalia Itzik, who has served as acting president, will continue to do so until President-elect Shimon Peres is inaugurated next month.
The protest reflected widespread public dissatisfaction with the deal. A public opinion poll by the Dahaf Research Institute published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily showed 69 percent of those surveyed opposed it, and 73 percent thought justice was not served.
The poll surveyed 503 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
The scandal intensified growing worries about misconduct by a growing list of officials, including questionable business deals involving Ehud Olmert before he became prime minister.
Last Mod: 01 Temmuz 2007, 13:11