Israel's Netanyahu faces calls to quit but is defiant in crisis
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls to resign over a corruption scandal on Friday, as senior government colleagues publicly declared support after some signs of cracks in party loyalty.
Netanyahu said he would not quit after he was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust by Israel's attorney general on Thursday night.
The 70-year-old right-wing Likud Party leader denies all wrongdoing and denounced the indictment - the first against a sitting Israeli prime minister - as an "attempted coup."
But his ability to lead a country mired in political crisis, after two inconclusive elections this year that failed to produce a government, is being questioned.
The centrist Blue and White Party headed by Netanyahu's main rival, Benny Gantz, issued a statement calling on him to "immediately resign from all ministerial positions in the government".
The party - which has 33 of parliament's 120 seats to Likud's 32 - said its lawyers had formally approached the prime minister and attorney general's offices saying it was "imperative" that Netanyahu step down.
Under Israeli law, as prime minister he is under no obligation to do so. But with Israel heading towards a likely third election in less than a year, Netanyahu could soon find himself in the difficult position of trying to win an election while preparing to be prosecuted.
The support of his Likud party colleagues is likely to be crucial to Netanyahu's chances of staying in power.
Two Likud lawmakers publicly broached holding a party leadership contest on Thursday, but even such mild expressions of disloyalty upset loyalists.
Senior ministers issued public statements declaring their support, and Justice Minister Amir Ohana said he was proud of his fellow Likud parliamentarians for standing by Netanyahu, adding pointedly: "Except for two of them."