Irish opposition calls on PM to quit over finances

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DUBLIN, Sept 25 (Reuters) Ireland's opposition Labour Party called on Prime Minister Bertie Ahern today to quit, saying he had given no ''credible explanation'' of his finances after four days of testimony at an anti-corruption tribunal.

''The story is simply not believable when you put all of the pieces together,'' Eamon Gilmore, leader of Ireland's third biggest political party, told national broadcaster RTE. ''There is only one course for him and that is to resign his office.'' Ahern took the stand at the Mahon Tribunal two weeks ago and made his last scheduled appearance ysterday to face detailed questions over tens of thousands of pounds he received in the early 1990s when he was finance minister.

Details of the payments were leaked ahead of a May election, in which Ahern won an historic third consecutive term.

Dubbed the Teflon Taoiseach (Teflon Prime Minister) for avoiding the scandal that dogged his predecessor and mentor Charles Haughey, Ahern's grilling by lawyers of the tribunal set up in 1997 was not judged to have revealed an obvious smoking gun.

''17 hours in witness box - still no answers'', read the headline in Tuesday's Irish Independent. ''No knockout blow landed in sparring,'' the Irish Times concluded in an editorial.

Ahern, in office for 10 years, has said this will be his last term and Irish media believe he may face pressure from his own Fianna Fail party to go early if he fails to restore trust.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said on Tuesday he was confident all parties in Ahern's governing coalition would back him in any parliamentary vote of no confidence.

Ahern has criticised the decade-long ''cradle-to-grave'' inquiry which he believes is now delving into every area of his finances having failed to prove initial allegations that he accepted money from a property developer in return for favours.

Lawyers for the Mahon Tribunal argue Ahern has yet to fully explain the sources of his income.

Ahern has admitted to accepting an envelope filled with 8,000 pounds (16,090 dollars) in 50-pound notes from businessmen after speaking at a function in Manchester in 1994, which he said were his speaking fee.

In late 2006 it emerged friends and businessmen loaned him 50,000 euros (70,390 dollars) and he has had to explain how he spent a further 30,000 pounds received from his landlord in a briefcase.

Ahern, who did not have a bank account at the time, says his finances were complex but not improper during the turmoil that followed the breakdown of his marriage.

The inquiry is one of several into graft under former premier Charles Haughey who in 2003 paid taxes and penalties on over 10 million euros he used to fund a lavish lifestyle that contrasts with Ahern's man-of-the-people image.

REUTERS JK KN1620

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