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Israel's Labor party to elect new leader

June 3, 1997
Web posted at: 9:43 a.m. EDT (1343 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's Labor party was poised Tuesday to elect former army chief Ehud Barak to succeed Shimon Peres as leader of the main opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government.

Barak, who presents himself in the warrior-turned-peacemaker mold of slain Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin, was heavily favored to win the vote.

"I see myself as (Rabin's) follower and the one to continue his legacy," the 55-year-old Barak said at a news conference. icon (230K/21 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Barak -- who served as Netanyahu's commander in an elite military unit -- was confident he could topple the prime minister.


"I believe I can bring Labor back to power," he said.

Opinion polls have shown Barak and Netanyahu in a near dead heat. Elections are currently scheduled for 2000, but could come sooner if Netanyahu's coalition government collapses.

Barak's main challenger for Labor chief is Peres protege Yossi Beilin, who helped orchestrate secret meetings with the Palestinians in 1993 that led to the autonomy agreements at the center of the Mideast peace process.


Political novice Shlomo Ben-Ami and former health minister Ephraim Sneh are also vying for the position.

Barak -- Israel's most decorated soldier -- joined the party two years ago and served as Rabin's interior minister, succeeding Peres as foreign minister after Rabin's assassination. Netanyahu's Likud party turned Labor out of government in 1996 by stressing national security, a position Barak believes he can match.

"The Labor party has gotten back up on its feet, and a journey has begun which is perhaps long but which will in the end return us to leading the country," he said.

Considered a brilliant military strategist, Barak commanded the Sayeret Matkal commando unit in the 1970s and participated in Israel's daring rescue of a hijacked airliner at the Lod, Israel, airport in 1972.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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