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Israel's Olmert Resigns as Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented his resignation letter to President Shimon Peres at the president's official residence in Jerusalem Sunday. Olmert faces corruption allegations and is likely to be replaced by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was elected the ruling party's new leader last Wednesday. VOA Jerusalem Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Ehud Olmert has been mired in a corruption scandal that brought him to promise last July that he would step down as soon as his party picked a new leader.

That happened last Wednesday, when moderate Tzipi Livni won a narrow victory in the Kadima party primaries.

Olmert said he was informing his cabinet about his decision to step down from his post as Prime Minister of Israel.

The outgoing Israeli leader said resigning was not an easy decision, but said it is the worthy, diplomatic, and responsible thing to do.

Aides said his resignation would become formal late Sunday.
Olmert said he would stand by Livni.

She has just a few weeks to form a coalition government or Israel will be forced to hold early general elections - a year and a half ahead of schedule.

Olmert's departure is seen by many here as an opportunity to move ahead with U.S.-mediated negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been stalled over longstanding issues. The corruption scandal was viewed by party members as a distraction that took attention away from the peace process, and other pressing issues.

Olmert plans to stay on as caretaker of the negotiations while Livni works to set up a governing coalition.

Kadima is anxious to avoid early elections, which could see it lose to right-wing parties supported by those in Israel who believe the centrists are giving too many concessions to the Palestinians. Right-wing sentiments have been fueled in recent months by security concerns including Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Islamist group Hamas' continued control of the Gaza strip.