Israeli DM: Olmert Must Step Down

Ad Feedback - JERUSALEM, Israel - At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Israeli Defense Minister and Labor party chairman Ehud Barak said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cannot run the government and his personal affairs at this time.

"The prime minister must detach himself from the daily management of the government," Barak said. "He can do so in a variety of ways, which will not be determined by us," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, following a meeting of the National Security Cabinet, the prime minister summoned Barak to his office. The two met for about an hour, after which Barak held a press conference, which was broadcast live on Israeli television.

"In the wake of the current situation and considering the challenges Israel faces, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, the kidnapped soldiers and the peace process, the prime minister cannot lead the government and conduct his personal affairs at the same time," the defense minister said.

"Out of consideration for the good of the country and the accepted norms, I believe the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country," he said.

Barak said it was the prime minister's decision whether to suspend himself from office or to resign.

"We're not coming to Kadima with a stop watch, but this has to happen soon, and I mean soon," Barak said, adding that if the prime minister doesn't step down, "we will move toward early elections."

Earlier Wednesday morning, Tal Zilberstein, the prime minister's strategic advisor, told Army Radio that Olmert would not step down from office before clearing his name.

"Olmert has made a firm decision to continue serving as prime minister," Zilberstein said. "I say this on the basis of a conversation I had with him a short time ago," he said.

"He has no intention of suspending himself or making any sort of announcement, neither at this juncture nor at any stage while he is in the process of proving his innocence," Zilberstein said.

"He doesn't have any intention to resign or to step down temporarily, even if Barak asks him to," he said.

While politicians across the political spectrum called on Olmert to step down, government spokesman, Mark Regev said the prime minister would continue with his daily schedule.

"It's business as usual," Regev said.

Sources: YNet, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz

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