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Defense Minister Barak says Olmert must step down

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080528/ap_on_re_mi_ea/israel_olmert Defense Minister Barak says Olmert must step down By JOSEF FEDERMAN, Associated Press Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , May 28, 2008

      Defense Minister Barak says Olmert must step down

      By JOSEF FEDERMAN, Associated Press Writer 27 minutes

      JERUSALEM - Israel's defense minister said Wednesday
      he would use his considerable power to topple the
      coalition government if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
      does not step aside to face corruption allegations.

      The comments by Ehud Barak increased the growing
      pressure on Olmert to resign in the wake of a U.S.
      businessman's court testimony that painted Olmert as a
      money-hungry politician with a love for luxury.

      Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and said he would
      resign only if he is indicted.

      At a news conference, Barak said that in light of the
      criminal investigation, he did not think Olmert could
      focus on peace efforts and the country's pressing
      security needs.

      "I don't think the prime minister can at the same time
      lead the government and handle his own affairs.
      Therefore, acting out of concern for the good of the
      country ... I believe the prime minister must
      disconnect himself from the day-to-day running of the
      government," he said.

      There was no immediate reaction from Olmert. But
      earlier Wednesday, Olmert aide Tal Zilberstein said
      the prime minister "doesn't have any intention to
      resign or to step down temporarily, even if Barak asks
      him to."

      Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said the prime
      minister was continuing his daily schedule. "It's
      business as usual," Regev said.

      Barak said Olmert could suspend himself, resign or
      even go on vacation. He promised to cooperate with a
      new leader from Olmert's Kadima Party, but vowed to
      force new elections if Olmert doesn't step aside.

      "If Kadima doesn't act and this parliament doesn't see
      another government that is to our liking, we will act
      to set an agreed-upon date for early elections," he
      said. He said the date would be "soon."

      Although Barak stopped short of setting a firm
      deadline, his comments made it extremely difficult for
      Olmert to stay in power. If Labor withdraws from the
      coalition, Olmert would lose his parliamentary
      majority and the country would be forced to hold new

      Israel's popular foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, would
      become caretaker prime minister if Olmert stepped
      down. The party then could try to form a new
      government, and if that effort failed elections would
      likely ensue.

      Livni and other Kadima leaders have remained silent
      since Tuesday's damaging court testimony, although one
      junior Kadima lawmaker, Amira Dotan, urged Olmert to
      resign. Israeli media reported that several ministers
      already were positioning themselves to replace Olmert.

      Yuval Steinitz, a member of the hardline opposition
      Likud Party, criticized Barak for not setting a firm
      deadline. He accused Barak of trying to "earn time ...
      rather than doing the rational thing" and call for
      immediate elections.

      Israeli prosecutors are investigating tens of
      thousands of dollars in donations collected by Olmert
      before becoming prime minister in 2006. They suspect
      he may have violated campaign finance laws or accepted

      On Tuesday, the key witness in the case, U.S.
      businessman Morris Talansky, testified that he
      personally gave Olmert $150,000 over 15 years, often
      in cash-stuffed envelopes.

      Talansky said he gave Olmert money beginning in 1991.
      Olmert became Jerusalem mayor in 1993, serving for a
      decade at the end of which he was named ministry of
      industry and trade.

      Talansky, 75, said he did not get anything in return
      for the money. Instead, he said he overlooked
      questions about Olmert's request for cash due to his
      admiration for Olmert and his belief in Olmert's
      ability to unite the Jewish people. Olmert's lawyers
      are scheduled to cross-examine Talansky on July 17.

      Talansky's testimony is the latest blow to Olmert, who
      has been deeply unpopular since Israel's inconclusive
      war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in 2006.

      Olmert has set a year-end target for reaching a peace
      deal with the Palestinians. Last week, he also
      announced the resumption of peace talks with Syria
      after an eight-year break. Now, both peace efforts are
      in jeopardy.

      Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed the
      crisis as an "internal Israeli matter" and said the
      Palestinians "hope this will not impact the ongoing negotiations."
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