Israel election: Prime Minister Netanyahu calls early poll

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem (9 Oct) Benjamin Netanyahu, 62, leads Likud, the second-largest party in the Knesset

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Israel's prime minister has called an early general election, which could come as soon as January, nine months ahead of schedule.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the new elections for the 120-member Knesset - the Israeli parliament - would take place "as soon as possible."

His right-wing coalition government has been in power since 2009.

Although he remains a popular leader he has been unable to agree the annual budget with his coalition partners.

The next election had originally been scheduled to take place in October next year.

'Turmoil'

Mr Netanyahu said he had decided to pull the date forward because bickering among his coalition partners had made it impossible to pass a "responsible budget" for 2013.

"At this time, in the face of the turmoil around us, it is my obligation as prime minister to put the national interest above all," he said.

"Therefore I have decided for the benefit of Israel to hold elections now and as quickly as possible."

He did not set a date, but said it would be "preferable to have as short a campaign as possible" and hold the vote in the minimum three months.

The BBC's Wyre Davies, in Jerusalem, says that although Mr Netanyahu is facing many tricky policy situations - including the collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians and how to respond to Iran's nuclear programme - it is the failure to agree a budget with other coalition parties that brought about this decision.

In particular, small religious parties are accused of refusing to agree on cuts to welfare programmes and government benefits.

With Mr Netanyahu's high personal approval ratings, his Likud party is expected to improve on the 27 Knesset seats it took during the last election.

But, even if he wins he will almost certainly have to form another coalition, given the proportional nature of Israel's voting system, our correspondent says.

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