Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has asked his country's president to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The move comes as Mr. Sharon says he has quit the Likud Party and will form his own party to contest the elections.
Ariel Sharon opened a new era in Israeli politics on Monday when he walked away from the Likud Party, which he helped to establish 30 years ago. Mr. Sharon also asked Israel's president to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
In a brief statement read on Israel Radio, Mr. Sharon said he expected to take at least half of the Likud Party with him into the new National Responsibility Party. The Likud Party controls more than 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. A formal announcement from Mr. Sharon establishing the party is expected at a news conference Monday evening.
Early Monday, the prime minister went to the residence of Israel's President Moshe Katsav to ask that parliament be dissolved and early elections be called. Before that can happen, Mr. Katsav must poll legislators to see if any coalition can be assembled to form a new government, something considered highly unlikely. After his meeting Mr. Katsav met briefly with reporters.
Israel's president says he believes elections should be held as soon as possible.
Among the Israeli politicians Mr. Sharon is expected to bring with him into his new party is former Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres. Mr. Peres was defeated recently in his bid for re-election as party head by labor union leader Amir Peretz, who is expected to be Mr. Sharon's main opponent in upcoming elections. On Sunday, the Labor Party formally approved leaving Mr. Sharon's coalition government.
In his statement on Monday, Mr. Sharon said he did not envision any unilateral troop pullbacks in the West Bank. The prime minister also pledged to follow the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which requires Palestinians to halt terrorism and Israelis to halt settlement building in the West Bank.