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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 December, 2004, 15:27 GMT
Abbas apology to Kuwait over Iraq
Mahmoud Abbas
Mr Abbas is seeking financial support from the Kuwaitis
Senior Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has apologised for the Palestinians' support of Saddam Hussein during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Mr Abbas made the apology after arriving in the emirate on Sunday.

It is the first visit to Kuwait by a senior Palestinian since relations were frozen 14 years ago.

Mr Abbas' unexpected statement came after the Kuwaiti government announced it had forgiven the Palestinians, and was not expecting a public apology.

Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) - and is one of the leading candidates in next month's election to replace the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

He arrived in the oil-rich emirate at the head of a large delegation, including Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei.

We apologise to Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people for what we did
Mahmoud Abbas
PLO chairman
Mr Abbas said he was turning over a new leaf.

"We apologise to Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people for what we did," said Mr Abbas.

However BBC middle east correspondent Paul Wood says not everyone in Kuwait thinks it is time for a fresh start in relations with the Palestinians.

One hardline Islamist MP called the visit "an insult to national integrity".

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Kuwait severed ties with PLO as a result of the Gulf War fall-out and cut its financial backing.

After Saddam Hussein was driven out, the emirate expelled some 400,000 Palestinians, although a few thousand stayed or have since returned.

Mr Abbas said he would be asking the Kuwaiti leadership for financial backing on behalf of the PLO.

"Of course we will present our special needs in front of them [Kuwaitis] and leave it to their consideration," he said, quoted by Reuters.

Ahead of the visit, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah had said: "We are not looking for apologies, this issue is over. On the contrary, we welcome the visit," he said.

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