Peres announces candidacy for president

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — Vice Premier Shimon Peres announced his candidacy Wednesday for president of Israel, an office tarnished by rape and other sexual misconduct allegations against its current occupant, Moshe Katsav.

Peres, 83, is Israel’s elder statesman, and the presidency would cap 60 years of public service at the highest levels.

He ran for the president’s job seven years ago, but in a secret ballot, parliament gave the job to Katsav, a junior politician who enjoyed the support of a prominent Israeli spiritual leader.

“This may be my last chance to serve the country,” he said, upon accepting his Kadima Party’s endorsement for the June 13 race. The term is for seven years.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged his support for Peres, himself a former prime minister, saying he would be a perfect fit for the ceremonial post, which is traditionally filled by Zionist legends and revered statesmen, but has lost esteem because of the allegations against Katsav.

“The people of Israel would be honoured to have Shimon Peres as its president,” Olmert said. “Shimon Peres represents everything that is right, desirable and honourable in a president.” A member of parliament since 1959, Peres has held a succession of senior posts, including the premiership, and minister of defense, finance and foreign affairs. He is held in high regard abroad, and shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At home, however, he is famous for his multiple electoral defeats.

He served three brief stints as prime minister, but was never elected. In 2005, he bolted the Labour Party that had been his home for his entire political life to join Kadima.

The winner will be decided in a secret ballot in the 120-member parliament. Peres is expected to face off against former Knesset spokesman Reuven Rivlin of the hawkish Likud, and Colette Avital of the centrist Labour Party.

Katsav, who insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing, stepped aside earlier in the year to battle the allegations against him, but refused to resign. No formal charges have been brought against him, though Attorney General Meni Mazuz has signalled his intent to do so.

Katsavi’s term ends this summer. 

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