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JERUSALEM (AP) — Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be headed toward a historic fifth term as Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday, with close-to-complete unofficial election results giving his right-wing Likud and other nationalist and religious parties a solid majority in parliament.

The outcome affirmed Israel’s continued tilt to the right and further dimmed hopes of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Re-election will also give Netanyahu an important boost as he braces for the likelihood of criminal charges in a series of corruption scandals.

With 97.4% of the vote counted, Likud and its traditional political allies were in command of a 65-55 majority in parliament. A couple of small parties were still teetering along the electoral threshold and fighting for their survival, so the final makeup of the next parliament has yet to be decided. Final results were expected Thursday.

Two of his potential allies, hawkish former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and economic-centric Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, have yet to formally confirm they would sit with Netanyahu and could emerge as wildcards. In any case, the country now faces what could be weeks of political negotiations over the composition of a ruling coalition.

But under nearly every scenario, Netanyahu was the big winner.

The long-time Israeli leader had fought a tight, ugly race against centrist ex-military chief Benny Gantz, whose nascent Blue and White party emerged as a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s decade in power. The near-final results showed it deadlocked with Likud at 35 seats. But most of its support seems to have come at the expense of the venerable Labor and leftist Meretz parties, who both earned historic lows in Tuesday’s election.

Together with his current Jewish ultra-Orthodox and nationalist partners, Netanyahu seemed to have a clear path toward building a coalition government that has a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

With a victory, Netanyahu would capture a fourth consecutive term and fifth overall, which this summer will make him Israel’s longest-ever serving leader, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion.

“It’s a night of tremendous victory,” Netanyahu told supporters early Wednesday. “I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with an even greater trust.”

He said he had already begun talking to fellow right wing and religious parties about forming a new coalition.

“I want to make it clear, it will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, right or left, Jews and non-Jews alike,” he said.

Netanyahu’s message of unity was a sharp contrast from his campaign theme in which he accused Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him. Arab leaders accused Netanyahu of demonizing the country’s Arab community, which is about 20 percent of the population.

His attacks on the Arab sector fueled calls for a boycott and appeared to result in relatively low turnout by Arab voters.

Overnight, with fewer of the votes counted, Blue and White still appeared to be ahead by one seat and Gantz projected optimism that he would be tasked with building a coalition. But by morning, he seemed to have realized his dream of becoming prime minister was lost, even if he didn’t formally concede defeat.

“Though the skies appear gloomy, nothing is final. There could be changes and some political options could open up,” he wrote to his supporters. “Our voters asked for hope and we gave it to them. They wanted a different way and we outlined it.”

Though the Palestinian issue was rarely mentioned in the raucous campaign, Netanyahu had in the final stretch pledged for the first time to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in a desperate bid to rally his right-wing base. Netanyahu has welched on election eve promises before, but should he follow through on this one, it would mark a dramatic development and potentially wipe out the already diminishing hope for Palestinian statehood.

An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the outcome of the election raised Palestinian fears about an Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank. Ahmed Majdalani said Palestinians will seek the help of the international community to try to block any such plans. He said that the outcome of the election means a boost for what he called the “extreme right-wing camp” in Israeli politics.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel chose to entrench “the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession.”

The 69-year-old Netanyahu has been the dominant force in Israeli politics for the past two decades and its face to the world. His campaign has focused heavily on his friendship with President Donald Trump and his success in cultivating new allies, such as China, India and Brazil.

But his corruption scandals created some voter fatigue. Along with two other former military chiefs on his ticket, Gantz was able to challenge Netanyahu on security issues, normally the prime minister’s strong suit, while also taking aim at the prime minister’s alleged ethical lapses.

Israel’s attorney general has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases and a potential fourth case emerged during the campaign. He will only decide on indicting Netanyahu after a legally mandated hearing. Legal experts expect at least some charges to be filed, which could set the stage for a short term in office for Netanyahu and another round of elections soon.

“This is a clear beginning of Netanyahu’s fifth term, but his fifth term might end up being his shortest one”, says Reuven Hazan, a political scientist from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “In another year, we might be in a battle for either leadership of the Likud or another election.”
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LONDON (AP) — British police stationed armed officers outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Friday after tweets from WikiLeaks quoted what it said were high-level sources saying that Julian Assange could be kicked out of the building within “hours to days.”

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LONDON (AP) — With Britain racing toward a chaotic exit from the European Union within days, Prime Minister Theresa May veered away from the cliff-edge Tuesday, saying Britain would seek a further delay to Brexit as its politicians sought a compromise solution to the crisis.

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LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers on Friday rejected the government’s Brexit deal for a third time, leaving the U.K. facing the stark prospect of a chaotic departure from the European Union in just two weeks, with political leaders in turmoil and the country ill-prepared for the shock.

It’s either that, or a long delay to the country’s exit from the EU. The alternatives are dwindling.

The House of Commons voted 286-344 against the withdrawal agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU, rebuffing her plea to “put aside self and party” and deliver the Brexit that Britons voted for.

Amid business warnings that a no-deal Brexit could mean crippling tariffs, border gridlock and shortages of goods, a visibly frustrated May said the vote had “grave” implications.

“The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April — in just 14 days’ time,” she said. “This is not enough time to agree, legislate for and ratify a deal, and yet the House has been clear it will not permit leaving without a deal. And so we will have to agree an alternative way forward.”

Had the deal been passed, Britain would have left the EU on May 22.

The bloc said the rejection of the divorce terms made a no-deal Brexit “a likely scenario” and called an emergency summit of EU leaders for April 10 to decide what to do next.

An EU Commission official said the 27 remaining EU nations were “fully prepared for a no-deal scenario at midnight 12th of April.”

Almost three years after Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU, and two years after it set its departure date for March 29, 2019, British politicians remain deadlocked over Brexit. Like the country as a whole, they are split between those who want a clean break, those who want to retain close ties with the bloc, and those who want to overturn the decision to leave.

Last week, to prevent Britain from crashing out, the EU granted an extension to May 22 if the divorce deal was approved by Friday — or to April 12 if it was rejected.

Friday’s 58-vote margin of defeat for the deal was narrower than previous votes in January and March, but it still left the government’s blueprint for exiting the bloc in tatters.

May’s deal was voted down even after the prime minister sacrificed her job in exchange for Brexit, promising to quit if lawmakers approved the agreement. With the deal’s rejection, she will face pressure to step aside and let a new Conservative Party leader take over negotiations with the EU.

The government had also warned pro-Brexit politicians that rejecting May’s deal could see Britain’s departure from the EU delayed indefinitely.

May’s arguments moved some previously resistant Brexit-backers to support the deal. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — a likely contender to replace May as Conservative leader — tweeted that rejecting it risked “being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.”

But May’s key allies, the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, refused to back the agreement because it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.

Parliament voted on the legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement that May struck with the EU late last year, setting out the terms of Britain’s departure — but not on a shorter declaration on future ties that was also part of the accord between the two sides.

Removing the political declaration altered the deal enough to overcome a parliamentary ban against asking lawmakers the same question over and over again.

May also hoped severing the link between the two parts of the deal would blunt opposition. That gamble failed to pay off, as opposition lawmakers said if amounted to voting for a “blind Brexit” with no idea what would happen next.

Opposition lawmakers declared May’s deal as good as dead. Labour Party legislator Ian Murray likened it to the dead parrot in a Monty Python comedy sketch.

“Her deal is no more,” he said. “It has ceased to exist. It is bereft of life. It rests in peace. It’s a deal that has been nailed to its perch. It’s an ex-parrot, it is an ex-deal.”

Lawmakers who favor a “soft Brexit” plan to hold votes Monday in an attempt to find a deal with majority support that can break the deadlock.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Parliament had a “responsibility to find a majority for a better deal for all the people of this country.”

Business groups, who have been sounding the alarm for months about the damage a no-deal Brexit could do, urged lawmakers to avert disaster.

“All eyes are now on Monday to discover what Parliament is for,” said Josh Hardie, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. “The U.K.’s reputation, people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake. No-deal is two weeks away.”

If lawmakers back a new proposal, Britain would need to seek a new delay to Brexit from the bloc to implement it.

The EU has indicated it could grant an extension of up to a year if the U.K. plans to change course and tack toward a softer departure. That would, however, require Britain to participate in elections for the European Parliament in late May — something both the bloc and the British government have sought to avoid.

The political morass has left Britons on both sides of the debate frustrated and angry. Thousands of Brexit supporters, who had planned to be celebrating Friday, were protesting instead.

They converged on Parliament Square as lawmakers voted inside, waving Union Jack flags, singing “Bye-Bye EU” and lamenting the government’s failure to take Britain out of the bloc on schedule.

“The people are supposed to be the masters and them inside (Parliament) are meant to do what we tell them,” said Charlotte Clifford from Eastbourne in southern England. “It’s democracy.”

The main “Leave Means Leave” protest outside Parliament was attended by senior Brexiteers including former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who called Friday a “day of betrayal.”

In a separate rally up the street, far-right agitator Tommy Robinson roused supporters with a speech attacking politicians and the media.

Retired charity worker Mandy Childs, one of a band of Brexit supporters walking across England to join the “Leave Means Leave” protest, said she felt “heartbroken.”

“We were told over a 100 times by a British prime minister that we would be leaving on the 29th of March, 2019,” she said.

“To do that, promise the British people that and then say ‘Actually, no, we need to just put it back’ — absolute betrayal. And how dare she?”
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Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Jeff Schaeffer in Great Missenden, England, contributed.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May told Conservative lawmakers Wednesday that she will step down once the U.K.’s exit from the European Union is delivered — a dramatic concession meant to bring enough of her colleagues on board to push her deal over the line.

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May conceded Monday that her twice-rejected Brexit divorce deal would be defeated by Parliament again if she put it to a new vote, though she said she still hopes to change lawmakers’ minds and get the agreement approved.

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