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Israel’s attorney general: No grounds to bar Netanyahu as PM

April 30, 2020 GMT
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A protestor wearing a mask and gloves amid concerns over the country's coronavirus outbreak holds a flag during a protest by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Dozens of protesters rallied outside Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday against petitions to disqualify Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while facing criminal indictments. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
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A protestor wearing a mask and gloves amid concerns over the country's coronavirus outbreak holds a flag during a protest by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Dozens of protesters rallied outside Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday against petitions to disqualify Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while facing criminal indictments. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s attorney general said Thursday he sees no legal grounds for barring Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while facing criminal charges, an announcement that came ahead of a Supreme Court hearing next week to decide whether to disqualify the embattled leader.

A ruling against Netanyahu would plunge the country into a fourth consecutive election in just over a year, and the opinion by Avichai Mandelblit was a boost of support for the longtime prime minister.

In his opinion to the court, Mandelblit said that while criminal charges against the prime minister “raise significant problems,” they do not justify “judiciary intervention” to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.

Earlier in the day, dozens of Netanyahu’s supporters rallied outside the Supreme Court, calling on the judges to reject the petitions.

Around 100 people, many waving Israeli flags while maintaining mandatory social distancing, demonstrated against what they say is court intervention in the democratic process. “The Supreme Court is ruining democracy” read some of the banners held by the demonstrators.

Several dozen activists from the “Black Flag” group that wants Netanyahu barred from office held a counter-protest nearby.

On Sunday, the court is to hear petitions from several nonprofit advocacy groups against a coalition government deal reached by Netanyahu and his main political opponent, former army chief Benny Gantz. The two reached a power-sharing agreement earlier this month after more than a year of political stalemate and three deadlocked national elections.

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Under the deal, Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to rotate the premiership, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister the first 18 months and Gantz serving the next 18 months. It also includes a clause to advance plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including Israeli settlements, starting July 1.

The groups are asking the high court to ban any indicted politician, including Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a government. With the exception of the prime minister, Israeli law requires public officials to resign if charged with a crime.

Netanyahu was charged earlier this year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of a political witch hunt. His trial is scheduled to begin next month.