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 Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 17:21 GMT
Palestinian elections postponed
Yasser Arafat at cabinet meeting
Arafat promised to hold elections in January
The Palestinian leadership has postponed plans to hold general elections next month, Palestinian officials have said.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told the BBC's Newshour programme it was impossible to convene the election on 20 January because of "Israeli obstruction".

How can you hold elections when your towns and villages are under constant Israeli curfew

Saeb Erekat, Palestinian minister
The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem says that while no-one expected the polls to go ahead in January, the move is still a blow to the reform process.

A Palestinian cabinet statement said polls "would be held immediately after occupation forces pull back" to positions held before the Palestinian uprising began in September, 2000, Reuters news agency reported.

Israel has no plans to withdraw and our correspondent says the elections remain a dim prospect.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed in May to hold presidential and parliamentary elections following domestic and international pressure to reform his administration.

Last week the Palestinian electoral committee urged Mr Arafat to delay the elections until Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank.

Israel took control of Palestinian self-rule areas in June this year following a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Registration 'hampered'

Mr Erekat said electoral officials had been prevented from registering voters because of "a continuation of Israeli incursions, reoccupation, arrests, assassinations [and] lack of movement".

"How can you hold elections when your towns and villages are under constant Israeli curfew?" he asked.

He said that under Palestinian electoral law, 100 days were needed between registering voters and holding elections.

The minister appealed to the international community to help the Palestinians hold the elections "as soon as possible".

Corruption claims

Mr Arafat agreed to hold elections amid pressure to shake up the Palestinian Authority (PA) which has been accused of corruption and widespread abuses of power.

Palestinian parliament
Arafat's reforms have left many Palestinians dissatisfied

Palestinian officials have recently hinted the elections could be delayed because of continuing Israeli incursions and blockades of Palestinian towns and villages.

There has been growing impatience with the slow pace of reform.

Last May all the members of the Palestinian electoral committee, set up to organise the polls, resigned over Mr Arafat's failure to set a date for the polls.

In September, Mr Arafat's newly reshuffled cabinet was forced to resign after Palestinian legislators said his changes did not go far enough.

The first and last Palestinian elections were held in 1996 and another election is more than two years overdue.

Mr Arafat has said he will stand in the presidential elections, despite calls by the United States for him to be replaced.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's James Reynolds
"The elections were meant to be the centre piece of his reform process"
  Said Aburish, Arafat biographer
"The local people seem somewhat disenfranchised"
  Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator
"Our elections have been obstructed by the Israeli occupation"

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12 Sep 02 | Middle East
11 Sep 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
24 Jun 02 | Middle East
30 Nov 01 | issues
29 Nov 00 | profiles
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