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Palestinian speaker Fattouh to be sworn in
Updated: 2004-11-11 13:49

The Palestinian parliament speaker will be sworn in as Palestinian Authority president, in place of Yasser Arafat, in the coming hours, a Cabinet minister said Thursday.

Arafat died early Thursday at a Paris hospital.

Palestinian officials have said they want to ensure a smooth transition. Under Palestinian law, Parliament Speaker Rauhi Fattouh, a virtual unknown, is to become caretaker president until elections are held in 60 days.

"We can be certain transition will be smooth, and the Palestinian people deserve to have free and fair elections," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told The Associated Press.

He urged the United States to ensure that elections can he be held. In the past, Palestinian officials have said they cannot organize a vote until Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank towns and cities they reoccupied in a major military offensive in 2002.

Erekat said he expected Fattouh to be sworn into office in the coming hours, but did not have details on the arrangements.

Arafat held three top jobs — president of the Palestinian Authority, chief of the PLO and leader of the ruling Fatah movement. The PLO's No. 2, Mahmoud Abbas, is the top contender for taking Arafat's place as Palestinian leader.

Immediately after Arafat's burial, the 18-member PLO Executive Committee is to decide on a new PLO chief.

It is believed Abbas would win the vote, thus becoming Arafat's successor, at least in the interim. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has been acting has caretaker leader, along with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Fattouh, 55, grew up in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. He left Gaza for studies abroad in the 1960s, joined Fatah in 1968 and returned from exile in 1994, along with Arafat and other Palestinian officials.

In the first Palestinian general elections in 1996, he was elected to the parliament on a Fatah slate. In 2003, he was appointed agriculture minister, and a year later was chosen speaker, replacing Qureia who became prime minister.

Fattouh is a midlevel Fatah activist, and did not rise to prominence in parliament. He was chosen as speaker as a compromise candidate.

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