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Barak resigns in move to sidestep push for new elections
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In a stunning surprise move, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced his resignation on Saturday, apparently pre-empting the Knesset's push for an early general election and opening the door to a vote only for the premiership.
Barak said he would stand for re-election, effectively asking for a vote of confidence from the Israeli people.
"Due to the emergency situation the country is in ... and the need to continue reducing the violence and moving forward the chances of peace negotiations, I have decided to ask again for the trust of the people of Israel," said Barak at a hastily convened news conference on Saturday evening at his Jerusalem office.
"Tomorrow morning I'll tell the president of my official decision to resign and lead the Labor Party to special elections for Israeli prime minister," Barak said in a televised address. "Afterwards I'll submit my letter of resignation to the government, as required by law."
Under Israeli law, he can be challenged only by current, sitting members of the Knesset. The resignation apparently shuts out former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has consistently led opinion polls in hypothetical races against Barak.
His strongest likely opponent would be right-wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon, who took over the hard-line party after Netanyahu lost to Barak in 1999 elections and stepped away from politics.
Barak said he would tender his resignation to President Moshe Katsav on Sunday, and the election would take place within 60 days. He and his government will remain in power until the vote takes place and a new government is established.
Barak's popularity has plunged in recent weeks, as the ongoing conflict with Palestinians has left more than 300 people dead, most of them Palestinians.
A military strategist, Barak broke the news in a surprise announcement at the end of a 20-minute speech broadcast in Israel Saturday night.
CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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