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Israel's president asks Olmert to form government

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JERUSALEM, Apr 6 (Reuters) Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received the formal nod today to form a government, which he has pledged would set Israel's permanent borders within four years with or without Palestinian consent.

''I have the honour to announce that I have decided to ask member of parliament Ehud Olmert to form the government,'' President Moshe Katsav said after meeting Olmert.

Olmert, whose centrist Kadima party came in first in last week's election with 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, will have 42 days to put together a governing coalition. He has said he wants to forge a government as soon as possible.

The centre-left Labour Party led by former trade union chief Amir Peretz has already agreed to a political partnership with Kadima.

Olmert has proposed to remove Jewish settlers from swathes of the occupied West Bank if peacemaking with the Palestinians stays frozen.

But Israel would keep major settlement blocs under the plan and trace a border by 2010 along a barrier it is building in the West Bank, where 240,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Palestinians condemn such a move, saying it would annex land and deny the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

REUTERS OM HT1612

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