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After the Likud garnered just 11 seats in Tuesday's Knesset vote, senior party figures began blaming Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu for the election day crash and - in private, at least - calling for his ouster.

"It's not just that the nation doesn't want Bibi [Netanyahu], it is now clear that the nation can't stand him," senior Likud figures said on Wednesday. "He needs to get up and leave. That is the absolute meaning of the election results."

Another Likud figure said that during a Tuesday faction meeting numerous people, "yelled at Bibi for harming the elderly and pensioners with his economic plan. He never learned that people don't forget when their income is hurt. Now we are seeing the results. The four senior members [Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Danny Naveh and Yisrael Katz] didn't show up yesterday - and that says everything."

Likud figures are refraining, for the time being, from publicly calling for Netanyahu's ouster.

"His [Netanyahu's] controversial personality created an obstacle for the party on election day," Likud MK Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) told Army Radio that Netanyahu's economic policies caused the party's collapse at the polls.

Rivlin said, however, that it was forbidden to enter into personal power struggles.

The Likud had hoped to block a center-left coalition, but with almost all of the votes counted, found itself weakened to 11 seats. This is far below the figures the party had hoped and a far cry from the 38 seats it won under Ariel Sharon in 2003.

Rivlin expressed doubt at Netanyahu's ability to continue leading the Likud.

"Those harmed [by the economic policies] were unwilling to grant forgiveness. What is clear is that the Likud has entirely collapsed," Rivlin said.

MK Michael Eitan called for the creation of a Likud investigative panel to examine the reasons for the party's election collapse.

Netanyahu: I'm stayingNetanyahu - a former prime minister and finance minister - said Tuesday, however, that he was staying on as leader of the right-wing party despite its poorer than expected showing in the exit polls.

"We have no doubt the Likud has suffered a tough blow... I intend to continue along the path we have only just begun in order to ensure this movement is rehabilitated and takes its rightful place in the nation's leadership," Netanyahu told reporters from the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.

Netanyahu said that the poor results were in part due to the defection of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who left in November 2005 to set up Kadima, which the polls put on between 29 and 32 seats.

In a direct swipe at Sharon, Netanyahu said the party had already been hard hit when "the former head of the party left it, and left us a broken, shattered movement."

He said that the Likud's defense and diplomatic policies would, in time, prove to be the correct ones for Israel.

"This thing will go by and people will understand that we were forced to do these things simply to save the country," he told the disappointed crowd.

Other Likud members said that the party would need "serious soul-searching" to recover from its drop in popularity.

"There is no doubt that this is a very difficult evening for Likud," said senior party member and former health minister Dan Naveh. "This is a crisis unlike any that has ever hit Likud. This requires serious soul-searching."

It's clear that in the last few weeks, voters have returned to the nationalist camp, but not to the Likud," said Natan Sharansky, who merged his Yisrael b'Aliyah party with the Likud after the last elections.