09/27/2005, 00.00
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Sharon fends off leadership poll

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Ariel Sharon's Likud faction narrowly rejected a move Monday to force the Israeli prime minister into a November leadership contest against arch rival Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said.

Tzahi Hanegbi, the president of the Likud central committee, announced to delegates in Tel Aviv that a total of 1,433 delegates voted against bringing the election forward while 1,329 voted for a November ballot. The victory over Netanyahu, puts a freeze on the struggle within the Likud until April, when the primaries are scheduled under the party constitution.
Turnout was high, as 91 percent, or 2,762 central committee members out of the listed 3,050 heeded Sharon's call by coming to cast their ballot

Netanyahu, a former prime minister, had been hoping to force Sharon into a November leadership contest in a bid to capitalise on resentment within Likud over the recent pullout of troops and settlers from Gaza.

Sharon wanted to hold off any such ballot until April to allow maximum time for the scars left by his disengagement plan to heal.

Sharon's men said Monday that he would demand of Netanyahu, as the leader of the rebellion against him, to end the "uprising" and undertake to work as part of the coalition.
Benjamin Netanyahu, shaken by Ariel Sharon's upset victory, said Tuesday that his defeat was due in part to Likud voters who had caved into pressure, "baits" and offers of patronage jobs from the prime minister's camp.
"Bibi" Netanyahu is known for his hardline stand. One comment from readers on Haaretz on-line newspaper says: "The decisive rejection of Netanyahu, Israel's single most divisive and fundamentally dishonest politician, is a great relief. I only hope he will now once again scamper off to his far right fundamentalist friends in the US and leave us here in (relative) peace".

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