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Putin defends Israeli leaders from allegations

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Oct 25 (Reuters) Russia's President Vladimir Putin said today he believed allegations of wrongdoing against Israel's president and prime minister were politically motivated.

Putin was drawn into the furore around rape allegations against Israeli President Moshe Katsav after reporters overheard him joking about the case at a Kremlin meeting last week with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

''It is linked in my view, and in the view of many experts, to the fact that a large part of Israeli society is unhappy with the actions of their leaders in the Lebanon conflict,'' Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session.

''Many people see it as a defeat and start all these attacks, through the prosecutors and the police.'' Unaware a microphone was switched on as he began talks with Olmert last week, Putin was overheard by reporters calling Katsav a ''mighty guy'' and praising his virility.

Israeli police say they have evidence Katsav raped women who worked for him. He denies the charges.

Commenting on the remarks for the first time, Putin confirmed he had spoken on that subject but also stressed that he condemned any form of sexual harassment.

A former KGB spy, Putin said it was ''bad form'' of the reporters to eavesdrop on his conversation with Olmert as they were being ushered out of the room.

Israeli media have raised corruption allegations against Olmert related to his role in the privatisation of a bank. No charges have been brought.

REUTERS BDP BD1737

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