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Israel's Foreign Minister Calls on Olmert to Resign

02 May 2007

Pressure mounted on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign on Wednesday. Israel's Foreign Minister called on Mr. Olmert to step down following the publication this week of a report critical of his leadership during last year's war in Lebanon. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem bureau.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who consistently scores high in the polls, called a news conference late Wednesday to say she is withdrawing her support from Israel's increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Livni says that in a meeting she had with Mr. Olmert she told him resigning is the right thing to do, but she says she has no idea of whether he will follow her advice.

At the same time, Livni says she will seek to replace Mr. Olmert as leader of the centrist Kadima Party but that she opposes new elections for the time being.

Livni is the most senior Israeli politician so far to call for Mr. Olmert to step down. Earlier in the day, the Kadima Party leader in the Knesset also said it is time to form a new coalition with a new prime minister.

Polls published Wednesday in major newspapers indicate about two-thirds of Israelis want Mr. Olmert to step down.

Mr. Olmert says he will not resign, despite the publication of a report on Monday that blamed him, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Israeli Defense Forces Chief Dan Halutz, for not having a proper plan when Israel went to war in Lebanon, last year. Halutz resigned in January, and Peretz is expected to step down shortly.

Newspaper columnist Uri Dromi says another key test of whether Mr. Olmert will stay or go will come Thursday. He says support for the prime minister is slipping away.

"It is wavering," said Dromi. "It all depends on what the response of the public will be. People are organizing a rally for Thursday, hoping that thousands and thousands will show up and take to the streets - eventually start such a snowball effect that will bring the prime minister down."

If Mr. Olmert resigns he could remain as a caretaker prime minister until a new coalition is formed. Israel's caretaker president could also name a successor to form a new government. Media reports say a leading candidate to replace Mr. Olmert is Tzipi Livni.

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