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Israel's Labor Party Picks Peres as Its Interim Leader

June 20, 2003|From Reuters

JERUSALEM — Shimon Peres, Israel's aging left-wing icon who won a Nobel Peace Prize but never a general election, took back the reins of his stumbling Labor Party on Thursday when he was elected temporary chairman.

The former prime minister took 49.2% of the vote in balloting conducted by Labor's Central Committee, less than forecast but easily beating two much younger rivals.

Riven by infighting after being routed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud Party in January's general election, Labor turned in desperation to Peres, 79, to salvage its sinking ship.

Peres will serve as Labor's interim leader until June 2004, when the party will vote for a permanent chairman as its candidate for prime minister in the next general election, due by 2007.

A spokesman said Peres would not seek that position.

Labor has suffered from the electorate's swing rightward in response to suicide bombings in a Palestinian uprising.

But Peres said he would encourage Labor to show the public that Sharon's continued military measures against Palestinians amid a new U.S.-backed peace plan would not work.

"It is not enough to fight terrorism, you have to fight the reasons for terror, and what we propose is not a compromise peace but a peace of balanced people," he said in a victory speech.

Peres is best known abroad as a peacemaker who shared the 1994 Nobel Prize with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for forging the Oslo interim accords, which have unraveled amid continued violence, particularly in the last 33 months.

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