Israel’s Barak Calls On Olmert to Step Down

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister on Wednesday issued a tough ultimatum to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying he would use his considerable power to topple the coalition government if the Israeli leader does not step aside to face corruption allegations.

The comments by Ehud Barak increased the growing pressure on Olmert to resign in the wake of a U.S. businessman’s court testimony that painted Olmert as a money-hungry politician with a love for luxury. It also cast doubt on Israel’s efforts to reach peace with Syria and the Palestinians.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and said he would resign only if he is indicted.

At a news conference, Barak said that in light of the criminal investigation, he did not think Olmert could focus on peace efforts and the country’s pressing security needs.

“I don’t think the prime minister can at the same time lead the government and handle his own affairs. Therefore, acting out of concern for the good of the country, and for fitting norms, I believe the prime minister must disconnect himself from the day-to-day running of the government,” he said.

He said Olmert could suspend himself, resign or even go on vacation, and promised to continue to cooperate with a new leader from Olmert’s Kadima Party.

“If Kadima doesn’t act and this parliament doesn’t see another government that is to our liking, we will act to set an agreed-upon date for early elections,” he said. He said the date would be “soon.”

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