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Israel's Netanyahu to ask parliament for immunity

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he would ask parliament for immunity, weeks after the embattled premier was indicted on a range of corruption charges.

The move is expected to delay the start of court proceedings for months, as lawmakers are not due to vote on the matter until after March 2 elections.

"I intend to make a request to the speaker of the Knesset," Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem.

The request "would be in line with the law... (and) with the goal of continuing to serve you, for the future of Israel."

Netanyahu was charged in November with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.

He denies the allegations and accuses prosecutors and the media of a witch hunt.

A sitting prime minister is only required to step down once convicted and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

The supreme court has postponed a decision on whether a premier can be tasked with forming a new government while under indictment.

Allegations against Netanyahu include receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars and offering to change regulations in exchange for positive media coverage.

Despite his legal woes, Netanyahu remains popular within his right-wing Likud party and last week secured a landslide victory in a leadership challenge.

The premier vowed to win the upcoming general election, although early polls indicate the vote could again result in a stalemate.

The March 2 election was called after neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz managed to form a majority coalition following September polls.

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