Olmert fears coalition break-up


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Jerusalem : Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was bracing for a possible break-up of his coalition as soon as early next month over a harsh report criticising his management of last summer's Lebanon war.

Olmert's associates told Israeli media Friday they expected the report and mass protests that erupted as a result of it to influence the outcome of primaries in his largest coalition partner, the left-to-centre Labour Party.

The Labour Party is due to hold its primaries on May 28, followed by a possible second round in early June.

Former Shin Bet internal security organization chief Ami Ayalon is currently leading in opinion polls, albeit followed closely by former premier and military chief of staff Ehud Barak.

Both are relying on their vast security experience, in sharp contrast to current Labour Party leader Amir Peretz who an overwhelming majority of Israelis want to see step down as defence minister over his performance during the war.

Ayalon has said he will take Labour out of the coalition if he wins.

More than 100,000 Israelis from the political left and right rallied in Tel Aviv Thursday night, demanding the resignation of both Olmert and Peretz.

The protesters held up signs saying, Olmert, go home" and "Elections now."

"Mr. prime minister, you said you work for us. Well, you're fired," said Meir Shalev, a prominent author, who addressed the crowd along with reservists who fought in the war and bereaved parents of soldiers killed in combat.

"Mr. defence minister, you said (Hezbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah wouldn't forget your name. Neither will we," he added.

A large sign on the stage read "Failures, Go Home!" – a slogan repeated by many of the night's speakers. No politicians addressed the rally, to avoid giving it an air of a political rather than public protest, organizers said.

Olmert's associates downplayed the rally, saying it had "no relevance" as long as there was no majority in the Knesset (parliament) in favour of unseating him.

They reiterated the premier had no intention of leaving his office. Members of this government were the ones who made the mistakes and they were the ones who would fix them, they said.

As first steps to implement the lessons of the war, Olmert planned to upgrade the Israeli military, set up a long-term, multi-year budget for it and increase his visits to the security forces, Israel Radio reported.