Weizman says he may quit over scandal

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The Independent Online

The Israeli President, Ezer Weizman, bowed to mounting political pressure for him to quit by announcing yesterday he would probably resign before his term expired in 2003.

He has been badly damaged by a scandal over the hundreds of thousands of dollars he pocketed in gifts from a foreign millionaire. But the former cabinet minister and ex-RAF fighter pilot, who has insisted he did nothing wrong, stopped short of naming the date for his departure. His remarks, broadcast in an interview on Israel's army radio, came three days after police recommended that no criminal charges be brought against him over the $313,000 (£198,000) he received in instalments from his friend, the Sudanese-born textiles millionaire Edouard Saroussi, between 1988 and 1993.

He admitted yesterday that it "didn't look" as if he would complete his term - providing his first admission that he is now likely to step down. Israeli police made clear the main reason they did not press for the President, 76, to be charged with fraud and breach of trust was that the statute of limitations had expired. Their report, to be followed by rulings on the case by the Attorney General, far from cleared Mr Weizman's name.

Israelis, wearied by a wave of corruption scandals, responded in opinion polls, newspaper columns and parliament by clamouring for him to leave. Although his post was largely ceremonial, they believe that he had failed to live up to the moral standards expected of a president. He is now a wounded and compromised figure, in the embarrassing position this week of playing host to Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese head of state ever to visit Israel.

On the eve of Jiang Zemin's visit to Israel, the US President, Bill Clinton, will make a final effort tomorrow to persuade the Israelis to drop plans to sell the airborne Phalcon radar system to Peking. Mr Clinton will meet the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, in Washington.

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