Israeli defence minister gives Olmert ultimatum to leave

May 28th, 2008 - 7:49 pm ICT by admin  

Jerusalem, May 28 (DPA) In a dramatic announcement Wednesday, the leader of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s largest coalition partner called on the premier to turn the reins of government over to another member of his Kadima party, or else face early elections. The announcement by Defence Minister and Labour Party leader Ehud Barak comes a day after a key witness in a corruption investigation surrounding Olmert testified how he handed the premier $150,000 in cash over a 15 year period.

Barak told reporters at the Knesset (parliament) Wednesday afternoon that he was issuing his ultimatum since the challenges facing Israel meant the country could not be run by a prime minister who also had to devote time to personal matters such as an investigation against him.

He said Olmert could remove himself from office in a variety of ways, and called on the Kadima party to elect a replacement for its leader.

If this was not done, Labour would work towards holding early elections, he said.

Barak, who in the past faced an investigation into the funding of his victorious 1999 prime ministerial campaign, said Olmert’s leaving office would be a “suitable norm” of behaviour.

A survey in the Ha’aretz daily published before Barak’s announcement showed that only 14 percent of the public accepted Olmert’s version that the money he received from US businessman Morris Talansky was used to fund election expenses.

Talansky, who spent seven-hours testifying Tuesday in a pre-trail court appearance, said he also underwrote vacations for Olmert and advanced him loans which were never paid back.

Talansky testified Tuesday on behalf of the prosecution, who had had pressed for the early deposition, because they fear Talansky, as a US national, may not return to Israel if and when a trial begins.

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