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Pledges to pull ministers out of Sharon government

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Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu swept to a comfortable victory in a fiercely contested Likud leadership race on Monday, with exit polls predicting a comfortable win over his nearest challenger Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Turnout among the governing party's 128,000 members fell to less than 40%, however, with the contest overshadowed by the hospitalization of the party's estranged former leader, Ariel Sharon.

According to polls released by Channel 1 and Israel Radio shortly after the party primaries closed at 10pm, 'Bibi' Netanyahu secured some 47 percent of the votes cast, avoiding the need for a decisive second ballot. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom came in second place with 32 percent of the vote while far-right leader Moshe Feiglin and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz trailed with 15 and 6 percent respectively.

Before the vote Netanyahu stated clearly that if he won the primaries he would require all the Likud cabinet ministers to resign from the Sharon government, leaving the half a dozen ministers from the prime minister's new Kadima faction to govern until the March elections on their own.  


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