Barak urges Israeli PM Olmert to step down

After a damning testimony in Israeli PM Ehud Olmert's corruption case, Defence Minister Ehud Barak demanded Olmert step down, threatening to force early elections. However, an Olmert aid said the Israeli PM would stay in office. (Report: S.Silke)


Israeli Defence Minister and Labour party chairman Ehud Barak called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down on Wednesday over corruption allegations, saying he did not believe “the premier was capable of simultaneously leading the country and dealing with his personal matters.” 


Soon after, a close Olmert ally, Tal Siberstein, said the Israeli Prime Minister had no intention of "resigning, nor taking a leave of absence, nor any of the other suggestions raised" by Barak.

A former prime minister, Barak made the remarks one day after Morris Talansky, a wealthy US businessman, testified before a Jerusalem court that he gave Olmert 150,000 dollars over a period of 15 years.

The 75-year-old financier said in sworn testimony that he handed envelopes stuffed with cash to Olmert and his assistant.

He said the payments were made over a period of 14 years from the time Olmert ran for mayor of Jerusalem until he became prime minister in 2006.

"I gave some money to Olmert for his (election) campaigns in 1991 and 1992 [...] He told me that he would prefer cash, and I gave him first some money from my private funds, then some money collected in the United States on his behalf," said Talansky.

Olmert denies allegations of wrongdoing but says he would resign if indicted. Israeli State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said it was too early to say if an indictment would be issued and that a decision would be made only after completion of police investigations.

Labour departure would lead to elections

The Labour party is a key ally of Olmert's centrist Kadima party in the government coalition. If Labour leaves the cabinet, Olmert would have no majority and his government could fall, leading to new elections.

Barak said that Labour could force an early election if Kadima fails to persuade Olmert to step down. "Unless Kadima acts and a new government that we support is formed in parliament we will work to decide on a new agreed early date for elections," Barak told the press.

“We will see in the next hours whether Kadima does as Barak insists it should do and calls on Olmert to step down,“ said FRANCE 24 correspondent Annette Young.

Several members of Olmert's Kadima party have already let it be known they would be willing to accept the prime minister's job, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.

It remains unclear whether Israeli prosecutors have gathered sufficient evidence to bring charges against Olmert. Although he admitted to having given Olmert cash-filled envelopes, Talansky maintained that he had asked for nothing in return.

Olmert has gained a reputation as the ultimate political survivor for weathering corruption scandals, low popularity ratings and several calls for his resignation since he became prime minister in 2006.

However, now that even his key coalition partner has taken the gloves off, Olmert’s political future appears increasingly uncertain.

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