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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 06:19 GMT
Sharon 'set to quit Likud party'
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his weekly cabinet meeting on 20 November
Mr Sharon has found himself out of step with his Likud party
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is set to quit his ruling Likud party and run separately in next year's elections, reports says.

He will meet President Moshe Katsav on Monday morning to ask him to dissolve parliament, Israeli radio said.

Mr Sharon is said to have made the decision to leave the party he helped to found after long talks with aides.

The BBC's James Reynolds says there has been no word from Mr Sharon, but it is significant there has been no denial.

Snap election?

One of Mr Sharon's top advisers, Asaf Shariv, confirmed the news that broke late on Sunday evening.

"Yes. He will announce it sometime today," he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying on Monday.

He said Mr Sharon would ask for parliament to be dissolved, but did not confirm Israeli radio reports that he would meet President Katsav at 0900 (0700 GMT).

Earlier on Sunday, the moderate Labour party under new leader Amir Peretz decided to pull out of Mr Sharon's coalition, paving the way for early elections.

Mr Sharon and Mr Peretz are understood to have agreed earlier in the week to bring forward elections from November 2006 to March.

Realignment of politics

The radio reported officials as saying Mr Sharon had already begun contacting political allies about forming a new party.

It would be a "centrist party, from every perspective: political, economic and social," Likud officials were quoted by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper as saying.

Labour Party leader Amir Peretz

If confirmed, this is a political realignment of Israeli politics that has been expected for the last two to three years, says our correspondent.

Mr Sharon helped found the right-wing Likud party in 1973.

But his moves to disengage from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, which was carried out earlier this year, upset many hardliners within the party.

But, while Mr Sharon has lost support in his own party, his policies have won favour with many ordinary Israelis who neither want to negotiate with Palestinians nor rule over them.

Appealing for Israelis to vote for the person rather than the party is a gamble on Mr Sharon's part, says our correspondent.

But Israeli opinion polls currently show Mr Sharon is more popular among the electorate than Likud.

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