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Israel Decides: Sharon Ahead in Polls as Election Comes to Close

Aired February 6, 2001 - 2:09 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Less than an hour from now, the polls will close and Israelis will have chosen their next prime minister. It is a race between incumbent Labor Party candidate Ehud Barak and the hardline Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon. Several polls have Sharon ahead by as much as 20 percentage points.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour is following the election from Tel Aviv. She joins us now with the latest there -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, one more hour, or less than an hour now, before the polls close. And, as you say, it is a race in which the opponent, Ariel Sharon, the Likud Party leader, is way ahead, perhaps by as many as 20 points, according to the opinion polls.

He cast his ballot today at which he repeated his campaign refrain. He said that he would preserve the unity of Jerusalem and keep it eternal and undivided as the capital of the state of Israel, and urged Israeli Jews to vote for him.

On the other hand, Ehud Barak, the incumbent prime minister who is trailing, said, as he cast his ballot, he said, the Israeli people understand that my efforts towards peace are important, and he urged everybody to come out and vote, saying that it is not too late to close the gap.

There has been, also, more violence today, and this violence has been a backdrop to these elections. On the West Bank and Gaza there were more clashes. Palestinians have declared a "day of rage" this election day. According to Palestinian officials, 65 Palestinians were wounded. None of those wounds were life-threatening.

Now, in terms of voter turnout, this has been the most subdued election that anybody here can ever remember. There seems to be people here in a state of real apathy. They say that they are voting not so much for Sharon, but against Barak. And according to the figures we're getting now, something like 58 percent of the Israeli voters have turned out, versus 71 percent that they did turn out at this time of night two years ago when they put Ehud Barak in power by a landslide.

A key constituent bloc that is not voting, that is going to continue with their boycott, is the Israelis who are Arab, the Israeli citizens who are Arabs. And they are staying away from the polls, they say, to punish Ehud Barak for not creating them as equal citizens, and also for the death of 13 Israeli Arabs who were killed by Israeli police in the last few months during demonstrations in sympathy of the Palestinians -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting to us from Tel Aviv.

Christiane will have special coverage beginning just about an hour from now here on CNN about the decision that Israel faces now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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