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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 13:34 GMT
France 'snub' over Arafat records
Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat died in a Paris hospital of multiple organ failure
Palestinian leaders are unlikely to be given access to Yasser Arafat's medical file, the French government has said.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said French law only allows medical records to be released to "family members", who are then able to pass the file on.

The rules mean France appears ready to refuse an official Palestinian request from Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

Arafat died in a Paris hospital last week from multiple organ failure, but no official reason has yet been given.

His mysterious death has led to widespread speculation among Palestinians and Arabs that Israeli agents secretly poisoned Arafat.

Speaking to France's Europe 1 radio, Mr Barnier said the file would be handed over "in accordance with the law and the rules, to those who have a right to know and who ask for it, and I mean family members".

Secrecy

Sources at the French foreign ministry told the BBC the request was likely to be refused.

"Medical secrecy prevails. Bearing in mind what the legislation says, I don't really see how it is possible," a spokesman said.

On Monday, Mr Qurei's office said in a statement that the French government had been asked for the "full medical report into the death of President Arafat and the reasons for his death".

Under French medical secrecy laws, family and interested parties need to make a request and explain why they want to see the files.

There remains some confusion in France about the legal definition of "family" and how any disputes between Arafat's widow Suha and the Palestinian leadership could be resolved.

On Monday evening, the French foreign ministry said France would "examine" any submission.

Mr Arafat was flown from Ramallah to Paris' Percy military hospital on 29 October after his health deteriorated.

He fell into a coma a few days before he died.




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