Katz purging Sharon loyalists from ranks of Likud

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, who heads the Likud secretariat, began efforts on Tuesday to purge the Likud of activists who remain loyal to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Katz fired the Likud's deputy director-general Rafi Bar-Chen and threatened to expel Likud activist Shlomi Oz from the party, because he suspects them of working behind the scenes to help Sharon's new Kadima party. "Bar-Chen has admitted in the press that he stayed in the Likud to use the party's infrastructure to help Kadima," said Likud spokesman Ronen Moshe, a Katz appointee. "He downloaded information from the Likud administration computers to help an opposing party, so the man is unworthy of keeping his job. Any party would do the same." Sharon's associates responded by accusing Katz of "McCarthyism and ethnic cleansing" in the Likud. They said that Katz was abusing his power as secretariat chairman to make illegal appointments and help his campaign for the Likud leadership. "I was the victim of the brutal behavior of a gangster acting beyond his authority," Bar-Chen said. "I am staying in the Likud despite Katz. If I wanted to go, I would have left with Sharon and I wouldn't have waited for Katz to show me the door. I respect the prime minister, but I am a Likud man. I'll see Katz in court." Katz wrote a sharply worded letter to Oz warning him that he had proof he was two-timing the Likud and Kadima. Oz responded that he was in the Likud before Katz and he intended to be there long after he was gone. Meanwhile Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin endorsed Likud leadership candidate Binyamin Netanyahu at a rally in Kiryat Ono. "All the candidates are good but Bibi is the only one who can rehabilitate the Likud and lead it to victory," Rivlin said.