Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 03:11 am (KSA) 00:11 am (GMT)

Israel's scandal-hit Olmert formally resigns

Olmert congratulates Livni for her Kadima victory during the cabinet meeting (AFP).
Olmert congratulates Livni for her Kadima victory during the cabinet meeting (AFP).

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert handed his resignation to President Shimon Peres on Sunday but the scandal-hit premier could stay in office for weeks or months until a new government is formed.

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert submitted his resignation to me tonight," Peres told reporters at his Jerusalem residence.

Olmert announced his resignation earlier on Sunday, but the political uncertainty gripping Israel and casting a shadow over U.S.-backed Middle East peace talks is far from over.

"I have decided to end my functions as prime minister of the government of Israel," Olmert told a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, days after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected leader of their centrist Kadima party.

"I hope that Tzipi Livni will succeed in forming a national government with the composition she wants," Olmert said in remarks broadcast on television. "For my part I will help her with all my strength."

President Shimon Peres should grant Livni 42 days to form a new government and avert snap general elections, which polls indicate would bring the right-wing Likud party to power.

Livni, who hopes to become Israel's first woman leader since Golda Meir in the 1970s, narrowly defeated Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz in Wednesday's vote.

As foreign minister, Livni has been leading peace talks with the Palestinians relaunched at a U.S.-hosted conference in November and aimed at securing a comprehensive agreement ending the decades-old conflict by 2009.

She is viewed as a strong supporter of the peace process, but if general elections are held the opposition right-wing Likud party is expected to win the most seats, putting the future of the negotiations in doubt.

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