Israel PM Olmert to work on despite ailment -radio

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JERUSALEM, Oct 29 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a surprise news conference for noon (1530 ist) today to address a personal health problem, but public broadcaster Israel Radio said he would not step down.

Political sources told Reuters the news conference would be on the prime minister's health and one source said the ailment was ''not too serious''. Israel Radio said Olmert, 62, would announce he would stay in office despite the condition.

''This is not a matter for a major government shake-up or for Olmert taking a leave of absence,'' the broadcaster said.

Israel Radio quoted a private television channel as saying that Olmert had prostate cancer. One political source told Reuters that he had been told by Israeli officials that the prime minister's doctors found a tumour on his prostate gland.

The prime minister's office would say only that the news conference would be on a ''non-political'' topic.

A senior European Union official who met Olmert today told Reuters he appeared well and relaxed: ''I think he was fine .

He was joking. He was in a very good mood,'' EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Olmert is a keen runner and fitness fanatic but has been dogged by heavy criticism and talk of scandal for much of the 21 months since he took over the premiership when his centrist party ally Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke.

The death toll and inconclusive outcome of the war Olmert launched last year against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas saw his personal popularity ratings plunge to single digits. He was heavily criticised by a commission of inquiry that has yet to give its final conclusions. But he has refused to resign.

A lawyer and former mayor of Jerusalem, he is also fighting a series of police investigations into allegations of corruption while he was in previous posts. He denies all wrongdoing.

''I am indestructible,'' he was quoted as saying in April.

He is currently engaged in talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a search for a common position on how to establish a Palestinian state ahead of a peace conference to be held later this year in the United States.

Olmert faces opposition within his own broad coalition cabinet to making territorial and other concessions and many observers questions whether he has the political capital to implement any settlement that might be negotiated.

Washington appears keen to bolster Olmert, partly out of concern that if he were forced out an Israeli election would probably derail any chance of a deal on Palestinian statehood before President George W Bush leaves office in January 2009.


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