Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a tirade against the country's justice system as his long-awaited corruption trial got underway, accusing police and prosecutors of conspiring to "depose" him.
Netanyahu's comments opened what is sure to be a tumultuous period for Israel as he becomes the country's first sitting prime minister ever to go on trial.
Hundreds of protesters calling him the "crime minister" demonstrated outside his official residence while hundreds of supporters, including leading members of his Likud party, rallied in support of him at the courthouse.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of corruption cases stemming from ties to wealthy friends.
He is accused of accepting lavish gifts and offering to grant favours to powerful media moguls in exchange for favourable coverage of him and his family. He denies the charges, which come after years of scandals swirling around the family.
Netanyahu entered the Jerusalem courtroom wearing a blue surgical mask, in line with public health restriction due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He stood and talked to his lawyer and attorneys for other defendants, refusing to sit until TV cameras left the room.
As the proceedings began, the lawyers and judges also wore masks, with the three-judge panel sitting behind a glass divider.
In a hint of what could lie ahead, his lawyers said they would need two to three months to respond to the arraignment and said they needed additional funds to add to their defence's legal team.
Netanyahu sat silently and did not speak during the one-hour session.
He will not be required to attend future hearings during a case that legal analysts expect to stretch over several years.
When he arrived at the courthouse, Netanyahu revived his claims that he is the victim of a conspiracy by media, police, prosecutors and judges out to oust him.
"The objective is to depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years," he said.
He said police and prosecutors had conspired to "tailor" a case against him, and said the evidence was "contaminated" and exaggerated. He called for the court proceedings to be broadcast live on TV to ensure "full transparency".
Australian Associated Press