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Ariel Sharon's political career was at an end last night as he
remained on life support after hours of surgery to stop
"massive and widespread" bleeding in his brain. Political
leaders publicly offered statements of support for Mr
Sharon, but there was a growing acceptance that, even if he
were to survive, the 77-year-old former general would not
return to office. Doctors said the Israeli prime minister
would struggle to recover from the stroke.
His deputy, Ehud Olmert, convened an emergency cabinet
meeting as acting prime minister and said that the general
election scheduled for March, which Mr Sharon had been
expected to win, would go ahead. But it was far from clear
who would emerge as Israel's next leader, and whether the
crisis would give fresh momentum to the attempt to end
conflict with the Palestinians or curtail the opportunities
offered by Mr Sharon's "disengagement" from the Gaza
Strip last year.
"This is a difficult hour for us all," Mr Olmert said. "Arik
[Mr Sharon] is not only a leader, but a close friend to all of
us." Last night Mr Olmert spoke by phone to the
Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr Sharon could be sedated for up to 72 hours after
emergency surgery, hospital officials said last night. Dr
Shlomo Mor-Yosef said the prime minister would remain in
deep sedation and on a respirator to decrease pressure in his
skull. Dr Mor-Yosef told journalists he wanted to quash
rumours that Mr Sharon was either dead or dying; he
described his condition as serious but stable
|End of an era for Israeli politics
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