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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 11:40 GMT
Pressure mounts on Israel Labour leader
Amram Mitzna speaks, protected by bodyguard
Mitzna opposes coalition deals with Sharon
The head of Israel's opposition Labour Party has said he will not stand down despite opinion polls which suggest that the party's former leader would do much better in next Tuesday's general election.

Mitzna's election campaign resembles a magnificent funeral

Ben Caspit
Maariv commentator
A poll released on Monday suggested that the party could still catch up with Ariel Sharon's governing Likud if it ditched Amram Mitzna now and brought in veteran politician Shimon Peres.

But Mr Mitzna rejected the idea on Tuesday, saying that the return of the former Labour prime minister it would wreck his party.

And, a spokesman for Mr Peres said the former prime minister stood behind his party leader, who is known for his moderate stance on the conflict with the Palestinians.

'Deciding days'

Opinion polls released on Monday show Labour under Amram Mitzna getting about 19 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament, to between 31 and 33 for Likud, with the other seats going to numerous smaller parties.

But a poll published in Maariv newspaper suggested a Peres-led Labour Party getting 29 seats compared to only 30 for Mr Sharon's rightwing party.

Shimon Peres
Peres is a much better-known figure than Mitzna

But Mr Mitzna defied the latest polls, telling Israeli army radio that "under the former leadership the Labour Party would not exist".

"There are seven days left until the election and they are the deciding days because elections are, in the end, determined by the ballot and not by polls," he said.

However, Maariv's political commentator, Ben Caspit, was merciless:

"As things look now, Sharon can cancel what remains of his election campaign, stay at his ranch and count sheep until Tuesday.

"The self-destruct system of the Labour Party is more efficient and much faster than anything Sharon's advisors could come up with.

"Mitzna's election campaign resembles a magnificent funeral with a large congregation all of whom are there to make sure that the deceased did indeed depart this world."

Mr Mitzna is due to hold talks with Mr Peres on Tuesday, following the former prime minister's return from a conference in Rome.


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