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Opposition leader and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu indicated yesterday he does not intend to serve under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as finance minister, refuting rumors suggesting Netanyahu might replace Olmert in the post.

In a meeting with college students in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said he could not "put aside his political interests and join the government," as one of the students suggested.

"The government draws its strength from its leader. If the direction in which he or she is heading is wrong from the onset, then nothing could help it," Netanyahu said. Instead, the Likud head advocated calling early elections. "Let the people decide who possesses the courage and vision required to lead them, and provide the strength they need."

Netanyahu added that he had both the courage and vision for the task.

On economic policy, Netanyahu said he was in favor of "a free economy, functioning while maintaining social sensitivities." He reiterated his belief that such sensitivity can only be demonstrated once the economy is propelled by resources "owing to a free economy."

"We have to change the basic direction and the strategic orientation on matters such as the Islamist wave that is engulfing us," averred Netanyahu.