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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 15:33 GMT
Reform candidate enters PA race
Mustafa Barghouti at Kalandia checkpoint
Barghouti favours peaceful resistance to Israel's occupation
Palestinian democracy and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti has joined the race to replace the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian president.

Polls suggest that Mr Barghouti, 50, is in second place behind frontrunner Mahmoud Abbas, who represents the ruling Fatah party.

"I will demand total reform, fight any form of corruption, mismanagement, and consolidate the rule of law," he said.

Elections for the Palestinian Authority presidency are due on 9 January, 2005.

Mr Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, received a boost in his campaign when the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - the armed wing of Fatah - announced it would back his candidacy

Another member of the Barghouti clan, Fatah leader in the West Bank Marwan Barghouti announced on Friday he would not run in the presidential election and urged supporters to back Mr Abbas.

Marwan Barghouti in currently in an Israeli prison after been convicted of terrorism offences by Israel although he refused to recognise the court.

'Historic moment'

Mustafa Barghouti, who will run as an independent, is the founder of the reformist Palestinian National Initiative.

Palestinians [will] prove to the world that we deserve our status as an independent Palestinian people and a free people in our independent state
Mustafa Barghouti
He said he wanted to make the fight against governmental corruption one of the main platforms of his campaign.

His policies include creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, the right of return for refugees and the establishment of a democratic political system.

He favours an immediate resumption of peace talks with Israel and peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation

"This is a historic moment in the life of the Palestinians, to prove to the world that we deserve our status as an independent Palestinian people and a free people in our independent state," Mr Barghouti said.

A poll by the State Information Service in Gaza indicated Mr Abbas had 41% of the vote while Mr Barghouti had 20%.

'Not tough enough'

Mr Abbas was nominated to run as Fatah's only candidate at a Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - which are divided into several factions - came together to issue the joint statement in support of Mr Abbas on Sunday.

Masked gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
Al-Aqsa Martyrs plan to closely monitor Abbas' performance
Mr Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of the armed Palestinian uprising to which the al-Aqsa Brigades have been totally committed - and some militants fear that he will not be tough enough in negotiations with the Israelis, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston says.

But the militants of al-Aqsa will watch Mr Abbas closely and if they were to decide that he was giving too much away to the Israelis, he could face serious opposition from the militants which might split the Fatah movement badly, our correspondent says.

Mr Abbas served as prime minister in 2003 and has already replaced Arafat as Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman.

Other possible independent candidates include political science professor Abdel Sattar Qassem, journalist Majda al-Batch and billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri.

The militant Islamic movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad are boycotting the campaign because of their opposition to the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo peace accords.


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