Cabinet declares Sharon permanently incapacitated

Israel’s Cabinet on Tuesday declared ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon permanently incapacitated, marking the official end of his five-year tenure.

Sharon (78) suffered a devastating stroke on January 4 and has been in a coma since.

After the stroke, Sharon’s deputy, Ehud Olmert immediately stepped in as his temporary replacement. Olmert has since won national elections as leader of the centrist Kadima Party, and has become the designated prime minister, assigned the task of forming a coalition government.

Tuesday’s declaration was largely symbolic in nature, since Olmert has been Israel’s de facto leader since January and medical experts believe Sharon’s chances of recovery are extremely slim.

However, under Israeli law, an ailing prime minister can only have a temporary replacement for up to 100 days before an official successor must be named. That deadline expires on Friday, but because the week-long Jewish Passover holiday begins on Wednesday, the declaration of permanent incapacitation was moved up to Tuesday.

Sharon has been lying unconscious since his stroke.
Last week, surgeons reattached a portion of his skull removed in previous surgery. It was his eighth operation since he fell ill.

Sharon underwent a CT scan on Monday to determine the outcome of surgery on his skull last week, hospital spokesperson Ron Krumer said.

The scan revealed no change in his condition, which the hospital defines as “serious but stable”, meaning that his life is not in immediate danger.

Officials at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where Sharon is being treated, have said that discussions were still under way on whether to move Sharon to a long-term care facility. Experts say his chances of recovery are extremely slim, given the gravity of his stroke and his persistent coma.

Sharon suffered the stroke weeks after leaving the hawkish Likud Party and forming the new centrist Kadima movement, pledging to pull-out of large parts of the West Bank and draw Israel’s final borders by 2010.

Sharon had been expected to coast to a third straight term as prime minister, and his removal from the political scene shocked Israelis.

Led by Olmert, Sharon’s heir apparent, Kadima won last week’s Israeli election, although by a smaller margin that was expected when Sharon led the party. Analysts have said the party’s popularity was a result of Sharon’s legacy. - Sapa-AP

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