Al-Barghuthi quits presidential race

Jailed intifada leader Marwan al-Barghuthi has called off his campaign to become Palestinian president and has thrown his support behind PLO chairman Mahmud Abbas.

    Al-Barghuthi is currently imprisoned in Israel

    In a statement read out by his campaign manager Ahmad Ghnaim on Sunday, the

    West Bank Fatah leader said he wanted to act in the

    national interest and back Abbas who is the official candidate for

    the dominant Palestinian faction.

    "I again stress my support to brother Abu Mazin [Abbas], the

    nominee of the movement who is a dear friend and somebody who

    deserves the position of president.

    "I wish him every success in his mission on the road to

    achieving freedom, the return [of refugees], independence, peace and

    national democracy."

    Al-Barghuthi had been under massive internal and international

    pressure to withdraw from the campaign, after his candidacy

    threatened to split Fatah down the middle and derail

    the US-sponsored

    Middle East peace process

    .

    The 45-year-old leader was handed five life sentences in June

    for his alleged part in deadly anti-Israeli attacks. Al-Barghuthi denies the charges.

    Fatah anger

    He angered and astonished

    Fatah's leadership on 11 December when he announced his candidacy

    just hours before the close of nominations.

    He has since been threatened with expulsion from Fatah and the

    Israeli government has made it clear that they would not contemplate

    his early release from prison.

    Abbas is now the clear favourite
    to succeed Yasir Arafat

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell has also called his

    nomination problematic, while European donors have made

    behind-the-scenes threats to slash aid if he were to become head of

    the Palestinian Authority.

    While al-Barghuthi is seen as the father of the intifada, Abbas has

    been an

    outspoken critic of the militarisation of the Palestinian struggle

    against Israeli occupation.

    In his statement, al-Barghuthi insisted that Abbas remain committed

    to "the national principles", demanding among other things that he

    campaign for the creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem

    as its capital and for the release of all Palestinian prisoners.

    He also urged the Palestinians "to hold on to the option of

    intifada and resistance and to combine it with negotiations".

    Election boycott

    Al-Barghuthi's withdrawal leaves the path clear for 69-year-old

    Abbas to sweep to victory next month.

    Polls had been showing him running neck and neck with al-Barghuthi

    who remains hugely popular on the Palestinian street.

    Islamic resistance movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad have

    announced that they are boycotting the presidential election.

    "By nominating himself, Marwan delivered a message reminding

    everybody that Palestinians are still under occupation and running

    elections in such circumstances is not a natural situation"

    Ahmad Ghnaim,
    Al-Barghuthi's campaign manager

    Both

    organisations oppose the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords which paved the

    way for the Palestinian Authority.

    Al-Barghuthi's change of heart came after several visits to his

    prison cell in recent days by some of his closest supporters, his wife, Fadwa,

    and Ghnaim.

    Ghnaim said that al-Barghuthi's initial candidacy had managed to

    advertise the plight of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli

    prisons.

    "By nominating himself, Marwan delivered a message reminding

    everybody that Palestinians are still under occupation and running

    elections in such circumstances is not a natural situation," he

    said.

    SOURCE: AFP


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