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Arafat improving, watching US elections
Updated: 2004-11-03 09:46

The health of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continues to improve at his hospital outside Paris from where he is following with close attention the climax of the US presidential elections, Palestinian officials said.

"The president is improving. Doctors are more convinced that the situation is under control," Arafat's economic adviser Mohamed Rashid told AFP. "He is getting back to his normal activity slowly."

The first medical bulletin issued by doctors confirmed earlier reports that Arafat's illness is not leukaemia, though it did not suggest any new hypothesis to explain his blood disorder.

"Clinical examination ... and the first tests have confirmed blood irregularities: a high level of white corpuscles and a low level of platelets -- which allows us to eliminate the leukaemia hypothesis," according to the report read out in French by the Palestinian representative in France Leila Shahid.

"The tests show a persistence of certain anomalies concerning notably the digestive functions," the report said. However Shahid concluded that "over the last 72 hours his general state has improved."

The 75-year-old president of the Palestinian Authority is being treated at the blood unit of the Percy military hospital in the southwestern Paris suburb of Clamart after being flown from his headquarters in Ramallah on Friday.

The ailing leader is known to be suffering from a deficiency of blood platelets -- which are needed for clotting -- but doctors are uncertain over what is causing the condition. Over the weekend Palestinian officials said doctors had ruled out cancer and leukaemia as well as poisoning.

No time limit has been set for Arafat's stay in France, and one official said it could be several weeks.

On Monday another Arafat aide, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said the Palestinian leader was able to leave his bed and was "carrying out some duties, like giving instructions when necessary." He was also saying prayers and reading the Koran, officials said.

Rashid said Arafat had made a series of "important" telephone calls over the last 24 hours to, among others, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and the senior Palestinian figures Ahmed Qorei and Mahmud Abbas.

"He was in a very good mood and he chatted with them and followed the activities in the territories," he said.

He also said Arafat was closely watching Tuesday's climax of the US presidential race -- but has stated no preference for the outcome.

"There is no politician in the world who is not following the elections. And Arafat is following them because those elections have a huge impact on our situation. He will respect and deal with any American president. He said, 'I am not for Bush or Kerry, I am for God,'" Rashid said.

Arafat's poor health and his departure from his battered West Bank headquarters have sparked intense speculation about his eventual successor, but officials insist there is no power vacuum.

In Arafat's absence, Qorei -- who has the rank of prime minister -- has taken over as acting head of the Palestinian Authority, while former premier Abbas is temporarily heading the Palestine Liberation Organization and Arafat's dominant Fatah faction.

Around 1,000 Palestinians staged a demonstration Tuesday in the southern West Bank town of Hebron Tuesday in support of the veteran leader.

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