IMAGE: Ehud Olmert
Pool via Getty Images
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sits next to Ariel Sharon's empty chair during a special meeting of the Cabinet on April 11.
updated 4/11/2006 7:29:39 AM ET 2006-04-11T11:29:39

The Israeli Cabinet declared Prime Minister Ariel Sharon permanently incapacitated on Tuesday, officially ending his five-year tenure.

Sharon, 78, has been in a coma since he suffered a devastating stroke Jan. 4. His 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 Friday, but because the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday begins Wednesday, the declaration of permanent incapacitation was moved up to Tuesday.

Sharon underwent a CT scan on Monday to determine the outcome of surgery last week to reattach a portion of his skull removed in previous surgery.

Sharon's life not in immediate danger
Hospital spokesman 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.

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.

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