Netanyahu pleads not guilty in corruption trial

Just six weeks out from election day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday (February 8) to corruption charges at the resumption of his trial at the heavily guarded Jerusalem District Court.

Netanyahu is the first serving Israeli leader to be charged with a crime but seemed intent on projecting an air of business as usual, thanking the court and leaving without explanation some 20 minutes into the session.

He last came to court in May at the start of a trial subsequently delayed by lockdowns.

Netanyahu is accused of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud. There are allegations of gifts from millionaire friends, and that he sought regulatory favors for media tycoons, in return for favorable coverage in the press.

He's called his prosecution a political witch hunt.

Protesters demonstrated against the Prime Minister outside the courtroom- as well as outside his residence earlier in the day.

"And we came here because we support the law and we support the justice system, and we believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, our Prime Minister, should stand trial like any other citizen in the state of Israel, He has escaped trial for a very long time."

Israel will hold its fourth parliamentary election in two years on March 23, with Netanyahu's handling of the health crisis and his alleged corruption the main issues stoking weekly protests against him.

Opinion polls show the race too close to call. Netanyahu has been prime minister continuously since 2009 after a first term from 1996 to 1999.