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Fatah: Barghouthi to run for president
Updated: 2004-11-26 16:36

Firebrand uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi has decided to run for Palestinian president from his Israeli jail cell, an official of his Fatah faction said on Thursday.

Firebrand uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi has decided to run for Palestinian president from his Israeli jail cell, an official of his Fatah faction said November 25, 2004. Barghouthi shouts in Tel Aviv's city court in this August 14, 2002 file photo. [Reuters]
The candidacy could throw the Jan. 9 election wide open and pose a dramatic challenge to current front-runner Mahmoud Abbas, a former prime minister now caught in the glare of the charismatic Barghouthi's popular appeal with Palestinians.

Barghouthi's behind-bars bid to succeed the Yasser Arafat as president also raised the specter of a split in the late leader's historic Fatah movement, which went ahead and endorsed Abbas as its candidate despite Barghouti's challenge.

"He has decided to run for president," the Fatah official, who said he had spoken with Barghouthi's lawyer, told Reuters. "An official announcement will be made within 24 hours."

But Fatah ruled out running Barghouthi on its ticket by approving the candidacy of Abbas, 69, three days after a Fatah panel nominated him in a race that has also drawn several lesser-known figures.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) is Fatah's only candidate," senior Palestinian official Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, said after the decision by the Fatah Revolutionary Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"The door was closed" to Barghouthi running for Fatah, council member and Barghouthi ally Ahmed Ghen told Reuters.

"If he wants to run in the presidential elections, he will have to run as an independent."

Abbas, who took over the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization after Arafat's death on Nov. 11, lacks Barghouthi's strong popular power base, but he is favored as a future peacemaker by Israel and the United States.

Voice of Revolt

Barghouthi, 45, was the main voice of a revolt for an independent Palestinian state after peace negotiations collapsed in 2000 and has long been seen as a potential successor to Arafat.

Israel has sentenced Barghouthi to five life terms over the killings of Israelis and could come under international pressure to release him if he announces his candidacy.

At his trial in Tel Aviv, Barghouthi said he was a political leader with no involvement in violence.

Palestinian political analysts predicted Barghouthi stood a good chance of winning the ballot, drawing support from mainstream voters as well as from Islamists who oppose Abbas's call to end the uprising.

Passionate and articulate, the bearded and diminutive Barghouthi has also advocated peace with Israel, making his case for an end to occupation in the West Bank and Gaza in near-perfect Hebrew learned during previous jail stints.

Asked whether Israel might release Barghouthi if he was elected, a senior Israeli government source said: "That would not change Mr Barghouthi's status as it is today."

Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the prospect of Barghouthi's candidacy in an Israeli television interview during a visit to the region on Monday.

"I am not sure what he is planning to do, but I think we will just have to wait and see. He is now in legal custody of the state of Israel, and that situation is not something that appears to be about to change," Powell told Channel One.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw laid a wreath at Arafat's West Bank grave as the first EU leader to stop by the tomb of the former guerrilla leader and president shunned by Israel and the United States.

Straw said that talks with Palestinian leaders gave him optimism about a revival of Middle East peacemaking.

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