Israel's Olmert defiant amid graft claims

 

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today vowed to stay in office and lead the Kadima party despite a police corruption inquiry and calls for him to step down.

Mr Olmert has denied wrongdoing in the case of a New York-based financier who testified in court last week that he gave $150,000 in cash to the Israeli leader while he held previous public positions.

Mr Olmert, who has promised to quit if indicted, has admitted receiving money from Morris Talansky but says the funds were legitimate campaign contributions and his actions were all legal. His lawyers have yet to cross-examine Mr Talansky.

"In all the matters that concern me, I just want to say, I have not yet been given the opportunity, but I will have the chance and I will say what needs to be said and clarify what must be clarified in an unequivocal manner," Mr Olmert said.

After the testimony, Defence Minister Ehud Barak's left-leaning Labour Party, Mr Olmert's main coalition partner, called on him to step aside and threatened to force an early general election, without setting a firm deadline.

Of more immediate concern to Mr Olmert are efforts by Kadima rivals, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, to pursue an internal leadership ballot to pick his replacement.

Kadima sources said Mr Olmert wants his party to put off any such vote for months, hoping to ride out the police investigation.

In a veiled comment aimed at Mr Livni, who called on Mr Olmert to quit in 2007 over his handling of the 2006 war in Lebanon and who sat at a table with him on Sunday night, Olmert said other Kadima members looking to topple him would have to wait.

"I know that political events of the last few days have put pressure on some people. . . . I propose that we do not act under pressure," he said.