Israel's Olmert Announces Plan To Step Down
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday he will not run for his party's leadership in September, effectively ending his political career and paving the way for new leadership in Israel.
Olmert said ongoing corruption investigations have prevented him from doing his job.
"I'm not doing this from a feeling I can't fulfill my duties. I believe in my ability to fulfill my duties like [I believe] in my innocence, but the slander and the mudslinging against me...." he said, his words trailing off. "Almost from Day One I had to repel personal attacks and postpone decisions that are pertinent to the security of the state."
Police are looking into a number of corruption allegations, including claims that he took bribes from a U.S. businessman and double-billed nonprofit agencies for travel expenses.
In an announcement from his official residence in Jerusalem, Olmert said he will not be a candidate for leadership of the ruling Kadima party in primaries scheduled for Sept. 17.
"I have decided I won't run in the Kadima movement primaries, nor do I intend to intervene in the elections," Olmert said. "When a new [Kadima party] chairman is chosen, I will resign as prime minister to permit them to put together a new government swiftly and effectively."
Earlier this month, Long Island, N.Y., businessman Morris Talansky testified that he had given Olmert about $150,000 between 1992 and late 2005. During that period, Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem and later in various national government positions. Olmert has denied wrongdoing.
Wednesday's announcement paved the way for cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz to battle for leadership of Kadima and replace Olmert as prime minister.
The candidate who wins Kadima's primary contest would form a new coalition government or face nationwide elections.
Meanwhile, the White House downplayed the implications of Olmert's resignation on Mideast peace talks.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is holding her latest round of talks in Washington, said Wednesday's discussions with Israelis and Palestinians were fruitful.
Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to keep trying to achieve a peace accord before President Bush leaves office.
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