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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Arafat promises elections 'by winter'
Yasser Arafat chairs a cabinet meeting
Arafat is under pressure to carry out reforms
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has said he will hold presidential and parliamentary elections by early next year.

But in a sign of growing impatience, the Palestinian electoral committee set up to organise the polls has reportedly resigned en masse.


I hope there will be a withdrawal so we can have our election freely in Palestine

Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader
Mr Arafat is under increasing domestic and international pressure to reform the Palestinian Authority amid claims of corruption and widespread abuses of power.

The Palestinian leader publicly endorsed elections last week in his first major speech since Israeli troops withdrew from his West Bank headquarters of Ramallah but did not go into detail.

Election pledge

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Mr Arafat said elections for the Palestinian presidency and parliament would take place "in the winter".

Israeli soldier
The Palestinian leader warned of elections 'under siege'

He said regional and municipal elections would also be held by the end the year.

Mr Arafat had previously insisted he would not overhaul the Palestinian Authority until Israeli troops withdrew from Palestinian areas.

However, the Palestinian leader told Reuters that elections did not depend on an Israeli pullback.

He said: "I hope there will be a withdrawal so we can have our election freely in Palestine," adding that elections could not be held properly while Palestinians were "under siege".

Committee quits

Differences over the pace of the reforms were highlighted as the Palestinian election commission appointed by Mr Arafat resigned on Wednesday, French news agency AFP reported.

One of its members said the action was in protest at Mr Arafat's failure to set a date for the elections and the failure of the Palestinian parliament to approve an electoral law put forward in 1995.

Another member, Mohammed Eshtayal, said the committee resigned because of a conflict of interest with two of the group who had senior positions within the Palestinian Authority and Mr Arafat's cabinet.

The committee was meant to hold discussions with Mr Arafat last week but the Palestinian leader postponed the meeting.

The commission met twice last week and was supposed to organise general and local elections over the next six months.


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