ISRAELI politics were thrown into confusion as prime minister Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke and underwent emergency brain surgery lasting several hours. The deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert, a close ally of Sharon, took over the government and said that the general election due in late March would still take place. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice postponed a visit to the Far East in order to keep in touch with developments in Israel and the Middle East. In British politics the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Charles Kennedy, made a dramatic public admission that he had had a drink problem and claimed that it was now effectively dealt with. However, several LibDem MPs said that they had lost confidence in Mr Kennedy and yesterday afternoon he resigned. Meanwhile, the new leader of the Conservatives, Mr David Cameron, continued his series of speeches outlining his new policies. His unqualified support for a National Health Service free at the point of delivery came as a surpise to some of his supporters since he had advocated the patient's passport for private treatment at the last election. The ruler of Dubia, Sheik Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, died while on a visit to Australia. He had presided over the rapid and ambitious development of the emirate in recent years and, with his brothers, had established Godolphin as the most powerful horse racing and breeding operation in the world. As Russia took over the presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations it alarmed Western nations dependent on its gas and oil supplies by cutting off the flow of gas to Ukraine which had refused to pay a fourfold increase in price. In Britain power companies forecast that the cost of domestic gas and electricity would increase by 15 per cent in the spring, a hike of 50 per cent in three years. In Washington Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the centre of a corruption investigation, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and taxevasion charges. As part of his plea he agreed to name names, many of which were expected to be US Senators and Congressmen. Among the incentives offered by Mr Abramoff were free trips to Gleneages for golf.