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Israel PM Sharon's popularity falling: survey

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's popularity is fading fast, eroded by a series of scandals, a survey says.

For the first time since he took power in February 2001, a majority of Israelis believe the Prime Minister should resign, a survey by the newspaper Yediot Aharonot found.

To the question "considering the affairs in which the prime minister and his family are involved, should he resign?", 53 per cent replied "yes," 43 per cent "no" and the remainder did not express an opinion.

The poll also showed a record 57 per cent of Israelis do not believe Mr Sharon is credible, marking a three-year low for the right-wing former general who promised to stem the Palestinian uprising.

Only 41 per cent deemed Mr Sharon credible, compared with 75 per cent at the beginning of his mandate three years ago.

While the relatively small sample of 501 people by the Dahaf Institute had a 4.5 percentage point margin of error, the litmus test nevertheless revealed new depths of disillusion with the hawkish premier.

The survey was conducted as Mr Sharon became publicly linked to yet another scandal, this time involving an already controversial prisoner exchange with the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

The daily Maariv claimed that Mr Sharon had a close business relationship with the father-in-law of a kidnapped reservist colonel, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was freed in January as part of the Hezbollah swap deal.

The press reports raised a furore because Mr Sharon had not revealed his relations with the Tannenbaum family during a cabinet meeting last year in which the ministers agreed to the exchange by a single-vote majority.

Making matters worse was that Tannenbaum was a far cry from hero material, having been implicated in drug trafficking.

The beleaguered Mr Sharon went on the counter-offensive, unusually granting a barrage of interviews to deny that the decision to arrange the release of Tannenbaum was linked to his relations with the captive's father-in-law.

The premier denounced "an unprecedented slander campaign" aimed against him and declared he had no intention of stepping down.

-- AFP


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