Olmert spokesman: The PM will not step down; final decision on indictment to follow hearing on case.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday to suspend himself immediately, following Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision to indict the premier on charges stemming from the Rishon Tours affair, pending a hearing.
Speaking at a hastily called meeting of the Kadima faction at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, Livni quoted Olmert, who called upon then-president Moshe Katsav to resign when Mazuz decided to indict him. She said that Olmert merely needed to take his own advice.
"Kadima was formed to wave the banner of clean governance," Livni said. "The prime minister, like anyone else in Israel, is innocent until proven guilty. But citizen Olmert should fight from his home and not from the position of prime minister. Israel cannot tolerate a situation where he is acting as prime minister after a decision to indict him. It is a moral, ethical and practical test. The prime minister must suspend himself. There is no other option."
Livni said Olmert must learn from the example of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who resigned from the post in 1977 due to the scandal surrounding his and his wife's foreign bank account. She said that Rabin did not hesitate to quit and allow Shimon Peres to take over as prime minister ahead
of a general election.
If Olmert would suspend himself, Livni would automatically take over as acting prime minister due to her position as vice prime minister.
Such a move would give Livni a big boost ahead of the February 10 general election, because it would allow her to run from the Prime Minister's Office against former prime ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak.
The faction unanimously endorsed Livni's call for Olmert to quit. Some Kadima officials criticized Livni behind her back and said it was wrong for her to deal with politics while Israelis were being held hostage in Mumbai.
Livni's associates called the criticism "shallow" and said that she had devoted most of her day to handling the crisis in India. They revealed that on Wednesday night, she sent a message to Olmert urging him to quit via ministers Ronnie Bar-On and Haim Ramon and MKs Dalia Itzik and Tzahi Hanegbi.
Olmert's spokesman Amir Dan responded to Livni's comments by reiterating that the prime minister had no intention of suspending himself.
"The politicians who are calling upon him to quit are doing so for political reasons," Dan told Israel Radio. "All the people who say they are calling upon him to quit based on what is good for the country should want him to stay in power because he is the only one who can run the country without regard to political considerations."
Livni's strategist Lior Chorev responded that Olmert is acting like "the worst politician" and that he needed to adhere to the party's decision. He said Olmert had the opportunity to follow the example of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who resigned and allowed Gordon Brown to take over.
"If we have to fight the former chairman of our party while we fight the Likud, we will," Chorev said. "The party made a clear decision and he has to decide whether he is part of the party."
Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar called Livni hypocritical and said she was not acting for the good of the country but out of her own political interests.
"She knows that she will lose the election and she is trying in a pathetic way to become prime minister for 70 days without a democratic election in transparent political thievery," Sa'ar said.
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