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Monday, November 24, 1997 Published at 18:03 GMT


Netanyahu's right-hand man resigns
image: [ Avigdor Lieberman (left) with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) ]
Avigdor Lieberman (left) with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right)

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's chief-of-staff, Avigdor Lieberman, has resigned in an apparent bid to defuse a revolt by senior members of the ruling Likud party.

Several ministers had demanded Mr Lieberman's dismissal following a Likud convention at which he was accused of waging a campaign to strengthen Mr Netanyahu's position in the party at the expense of potential leadership rivals.

At Mr Lieberman's instigation, the convention voted to abandon primary elections to select candidates for parliament and other posts, putting that responsibility in the hands of a central committee dominated by Mr Netanyahu loyalists.

The move, which was opposed by most senior Likud leaders, was seen as a bid to give Mr Netanyahu the power to sideline potential rivals and silence critics in parliament.

Critics were particularly outraged because while Mr Netanyahu publicly called during the convention for the primary vote to be postponed, Mr Lieberman lobbied successfully behind the scenes for an immediate decision.
[ image: Netanyahu: Accepted his friend's resignation with
Netanyahu: Accepted his friend's resignation with "great sorrow"

Following the convention, a group of ministers and other Likud heavyweights openly plotted to oust the Prime Minister while he was abroad for five days.

Since his return on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu has sought to quell the mutiny.

Mr Netanyahu issued a statement accepting the resignation of "Yvette" Lieberman, a Russian immigrant nicknamed Rasputin by his critics.

"I express great sorrow over this resignation of a good, trustworthy friend who stood by me for many years," Mr Netanyahu said after losing his right-hand man.

Mr Lieberman, 38, emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in 1978 and had a reputation as a brawling anti-Arab militant in his student days at Hebrew University.

He rose to become Mr Netanyahu's chief aide in the opposition, when the Likud played a leading role in the virulent anti-government campaign that preceded the assassination of Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.

He was appointed chief-of-staff immediately after Netanyahu took office in June 1996.

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