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Olmert to Quit As Israeli PM In September 2008

Olmert to Quit as Israeli Prime Minister in September

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he plans to step down as prime minister in September.

In a surprise announcement from his residence in Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert says he will step down as Israel's prime minister immediately after his Kadima Party selects a new leader at a party convention on September 17.

Mr. Olmert says he will not run in the Kadima Party primary and he will leave office once a new leader is chosen. He says he hopes a new party leader will be able to put together an effective government once he leaves office.

Ehud Olmert's decision follows months of mounting political pressure, and an official police inquiry into whether or not he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal payments from a U.S. citizen long involved in political fundraising for Israel's right-wing Likud Party.

The allegations concern Mr. Olmert when he was a member of the Likud Party serving as mayor of Jerusalem, and as a cabinet member in the government of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Olmert has strenuously denied the allegations and has survived several other probes into his conduct since he became prime minister in 2006.

Tamir Sheafer who teaches politics at Jerusalem's Hebrew University says there are at least two reasons behind Mr. Olmert's surprise announcement.

"There are polls that consistently show that even if Mr. Olmert did run he would have no chance to win the Kadima Party primary," said Sheafer. "Another reason is that we know there is a dispute among his legal advisors, with some of them arguing the best strategy for him is to resign to fight the allegations against him."

The race to succeed Ehud Olmert began even before his made his announcement to step down. Two of his cabinet colleagues, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz have said they will run for the post.

Whoever wins the contest will be faced with forming a coalition government. Most analysts say any such government will not last long and new national elections will likely take place early next year.

ENDS

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