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Israel's Sharon loses title of prime minister

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, Apr 15 (Reuters) Ariel Sharon's tenure as Israeli prime minister formally ended at 0230 hrs IST today, 100 days after he was incapacitated by a massive stroke.

At the same moment, Sharon's long-time deputy, Ehud Olmert, formally took on the title of acting Israeli prime minister.

Olmert won last month's general election as head of the Kadima party which was formed last year by Sharon. He is in the process of forming a new coalition government.

Under Israeli law, a prime minister's incapacitation is deemed permanent after 100 days and his title and powers are revoked for good.

Sharon, 78, has been in a coma in a Jerusalem hospital since suffering a massive haemorrhagic stroke on Jan 4. He underwent several brain operations in the initial days of his hospitalisation but never regained consciousness.

Olmert, who was vice premier at the time of Sharon's stroke, immediately assumed his powers and was named interim premier.

At a special session last Tuesday, the Israeli cabinet voted unanimously to designate 60-year-old Olmert the acting prime minister. The vote was brought forward because of the week-long Passover holiday which began on Wednesday.

The title change from ''interim'' to ''acting'' does not alter Olmert's powers of office.

Olmert, whose Kadima party won the most parliamentary seats in Israel's March 28 general election, will take the full fledged title of prime minister in the coming weeks if the new government he is currently forming is sworn in as expected.

''I very much hope that today's decision will be in effect for just a short period,'' Olmert told the cabinet on Tuesday. ''I hope ... we will be able to bring a new government to parliament for approval as quickly as possible,'' he added.

Olmert has pledged to set Israel's borders with or without Palestinian agreement, through evacuation of isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and the strengthening of major settler blocs in the territory.

Sharon is expected to be moved soon to a long-term care facility, or back home to his ranch in southern Israel under medical supervision.

For decades, the former army general was a key figure in shaping the Middle East. Long seen as an archetypal hawk and champion of the settler movement, he was first elected prime minister in 2001.

In his second term, Sharon made an about-face, pulling Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the occupied Gaza Strip last year.

The dramatic move, marking the first time Israel has dismantled settlements on land Palestinians want for a state, stirred a far-right revolt in his Likud party, leading him to form Kadima.


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