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Thursday, August 6, 1998 Published at 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK


World: Middle East

Leading Palestinians quit Arafat's cabinet

Hanan Ashrawi with Yasser Arafat in happier times

Hanan Ashrawi and other leading figures in Palestinian politics have resigned from the Palestinian government in protest at Wednesday's cabinet reshuffle by the Palestinian Authority leader, Yasser Arafat.


Hanan Ashrawi: "This cabinet does not reflect the needs of the people"
Ms Ashrawi said she was resigning over alleged corruption and the handling of peace talks.

"Being part of this new formation in my opinion will not achieve anything," she told a news conference in the self-ruled West Bank town of Ramallah.

A second member of the cabinet who rejected his re-appointment, outgoing agriculture minister, Abdul Jawad Saleh, criticised Mr Arafat for leaving in place ministers accused of corruption or serious mismanagement.

He accused Mr Arafat of running what he called a school for corruption.

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, Duncan Kennedy, says the departure of Ms Ashrawi - a highly-respected figure - will rob the Palestinians of an effective voice from within government, although she is expected to continue to express her views in her new, non-official role.

Inaction over cabinet

President Arafat announced a new cabinet on Wednesday, a year after legislators demanded the old one be dissolved because of widespread corruption.

All of the ministers accused of corruption were reappointed to their old posts in the reshuffle. The Palestinian parliament is expected to vote on the new cabinet on Saturday.

Mr Saleh called the lack of action a 'slap in the face for democracy'.

"This move institutionalised corruption and the school of corruption in the heart of the Palestinian political system and has really accelerated the frustration of the Palestinian people," he said.

Ashrawi seeks 'genuine reform'

Ms Ashrawi, who has been minister of higher education since 1996, said she declined to accept a new appointment as tourism minister because the cabinet had not undergone comprehensive reform.

"I assured Arafat that once he conducts ... genuine reform, I will be willing to help him," said Ms Ashrawi, who ran for the legislature on an anti-corruption platform.

The former minister also said she was unhappy with the handling of peace talks with Israel.

During Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the early 1990s, Ms Ashrawi gained a worldwide reputation as the articulate spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation.

She headed the Independent Commission for Human Rights until she won a seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and remains a well-known human rights and women's rights activist.

Born into a Christian family, Ms Ashrawi lives in the West Bank town of Ramallah and was the only female member of the cabinet.



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