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Israeli Parliament Sparks Political Crisis, Votes Down Sharon Budget


The Israeli parliament has voted down the 2005 state budget, triggering a political crisis that could stall or wreck Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip.

The 69-43 vote comes as Mr. Sharon struggles to keep his minority Likud coalition together ahead of upcoming votes on the planned 2005 Gaza withdrawal. Opponents have vowed to scuttle the evacuation.

The political crisis erupted Wednesday, when the secular Shinui party - upset with funding provisions for religious parties - defied Mr. Sharon's orders and voted against the budget on its first reading.

A short while later, the prime minister fired the renegade Shinui ministers, leaving the Likud coalition in control of only 40 votes in the 120-seat Knesset.

Party officials say Mr. Sharon will soon begin negotiations to bring the opposition Labor Party's 22 lawmakers into the government.

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