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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Arafat 'to stand in elections'
Yasser Arafat
There had been talk of allowing Arafat a ceremonial role
Yasser Arafat says he will run in Palestinian presidential elections in January, rebuffing US calls for a change in leadership.

Asked if he planned to run during an interview with an Egyptian television network, Mr Arafat replied: "Of course, if I am tasked by the Palestinian command (because) I am proud of our democracy."


We are not Afghanistan, for them to change [leaders] as they wish

Yasser Arafat

Although aides had previously said Mr Arafat intended to run, correspondents say this is the first time he had declared his intentions.

The comments are a rebuke to US President George W Bush, who recently called for the Palestinians to change their leadership in order to prepare for peace.

Mr Arafat, speaking from the West Bank, said the Americans "must know that we are not Afghanistan, for them to change [leaders] as they wish."

And the embattled Palestinian leader said it was "imperative" that he stand for election.

His comments came as his leadership received support from the United Nations, the European Union and Russia at a meeting in New York on Middle East peace.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Annan: supports Arafat as long as Palestinians do

All three rejected Washington's call to remove Mr Arafat, and questioned the US decision to place Israel's security ahead of other goals in the region.

Shortly before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and EU representatives met US Secretary of State Colin Powell, fresh violence erupted in the region.

"The UN still recognises Chairman Arafat and will continue to deal with him until the Palestinians decide otherwise," said Mr Annan at a news conference after discussions with Mr Powell.

Task force

His comments were echoed by Mr Ivanov and the Danish Foreign Minister, Per Stig Moeller, both of whom stressed the need to respect the sovereignty of the Palestinian people.

The foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt, who met the quartet for separate round of talks, also criticised US attempts to sideline Mr Arafat.

"The issue is not the person of Mr Arafat, but the occupation." said Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

The so-called quartet - the EU, Russia, the US and the UN - agreed that a task-force would meet at the end of August to discuss economic assistance to the Palestinians, and that leaders would meet for a fresh round of talks at the UN General Assembly in September.


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