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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 19:00 GMT
Kadima launches election campaign
Ehud Olmert launches Kadima's election campaign
Mr Olmert said Ariel Sharon had been central to Kadima's success
Israel's governing Kadima party has officially launched its campaign for the 28 March general election.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will head the party's 50-strong candidate list in the absence of its founder, Ariel Sharon.

Mr Olmert has been the centrist party's chairman since the Israeli premier suffered a stroke earlier this month.

Despite Mr Sharon's illness, opinion polls suggest that Kadima will be the largest party in the next parliament.

Speaking in front of a picture of Mr Sharon and posters saying "Kadima (forward) Israel" and "with Ehud Olmert", Mr Olmert said the prime minister had been central to the party's success.

"Kadima was born first and foremost due to the determination and bravery and leadership of the movement's founder, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," he said.

'Serious and responsible'

Second to Mr Olmert on the candidate list was former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, followed by Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Education Minister Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet.

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was eighth on the list.

Mr Olmert also reflected on the victory of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections last week.

"We are not afraid either by external threats or by events in recent days," he said.

"History has proven that when the people of Israel unite under a serious and responsible leadership, we know how to overcome all challenges and overcome all obstacles."

On Friday, Mr Olmert ruled out any talks with "an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel's destruction", referring to Hamas.

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