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Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Israel elects new president

Post caps career of veteran politician Shimon Peres

June 14, 2007

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— Shimon Peres helped build the Israeli army, repeatedly served as prime minister in difficult times and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at ending the conflict with the Palestinians.

At 83, the elder statesman was chosen as Israel's ninth president Wednesday and pledged he will work to unify the country and restore the dignity of the largely ceremonial office tainted by rape allegations against his predecessor.

Peres won the support of 86 of parliament's 120 members in a second-round vote in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. His two competitors, Reuven Rivlin of the hawkish Likud Party and Colette Avital of the dovish Labor Party, withdrew from the race after Peres seized a commanding lead in the first round of balloting.

He will be sworn into office on July 15 for a seven-year term, replacing the disgraced Moshe Katsav, who faces multiple allegations of sexual assault against female staffers in the president's mansion.

"The president's role is not to deal with politics and partisanship, but to represent what unites us in a strong voice," Peres said in a speech following his victory. "I am touched, emotional and even embarrassed by this selection of the Knesset."

Peres, currently vice premier in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, declared his candidacy just two weeks ago by saying it "may be my last chance to serve the country."

Peres' six-decade career mirrors that of the Jewish state.

"It seems as if you can't think about the state of Israel, without thinking about Shimon Peres," Parliament Speaker Dalia Itzik said as she turned toward Peres in announcing the victory. "You were there from the start."

Peres has filled nearly every position in Israeli public life since he became the director general of the Defense Ministry at the age of 25 and spearheaded the development of Israel's nuclear program. A protege of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, Peres became a politician in his own right in 1959, when he was elected to parliament.

He has since held every major Cabinet post - including minister of defense, finance and foreign affairs - and served three brief stints as prime minister.

His key role in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and unprecedented stature abroad as a revered statesman.

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