- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti has pulled out of a Jan. 9 presidential election to succeed Yasser Arafat, a close aide said yesterday.

By withdrawing from the race, Barghouti clears the way for an easy victory by new PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — a veteran Palestinian leader known for his moderate views and seen by Israel and the United States as a peacemaker capable of renewing negotiations.

During an unusual visit to Kuwait yesterday, Mr. Abbas moved to end more than a decade of estrangement by apologizing to the Gulf state for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s failure to condemn Iraq’s 1990 invasion of its small neighbor.

Barghouti, a charismatic grass-roots leader serving five life terms in an Israeli prison, had more appeal on the street than Mr. Abbas, the official nominee of their Fatah movement. The two had been running neck and neck in opinion polls.

“Today, brother Marwan has decided to stop running as a candidate for the presidential election,” said Ahmed Ghneim, Mr. Barghouti’s campaign manager.

A letter from Mr. Barghouti read, “I once again reiterate my support for brother Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, the movement’s nominee. He is a dear and good friend.”

Barghouti’s candidacy had threatened to undermine that of Mr. Abbas, 69, a former prime minister who has often condemned violence. A good enough showing could have discredited Mr. Abbas even if Barghouti failed to win.

Barghouti, 45, is part of a younger generation of Palestinian leadership seeking greater clout and demanding anti-corruption reforms.

He was sentenced to life in prison by an Israeli court after it convicted him of ordering attacks that killed five Israelis. He has denied the charges.

Barghouti announced his candidacy as an independent last week, despite pressure from Fatah to avoid a split. Senior Fatah officials threatened to expel him from the movement if he ran against Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Abbas, on his arrival in Kuwait yesterday, was asked by reporters how he would respond to Kuwaiti demands for an apology for the behavior of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, who had publicly supported Saddam Hussein in his 1990 invasion of Kuwait and his subsequent war with a U.S.-led coalition.

“I say, yes, we apologize to the Kuwait people over our stand toward Kuwait,” Mr. Abbas said in remarks that are expected to end a rift between the oil-rich Gulf Arab state and the PLO.

Kuwait kicked out about 400,000 Palestinians after U.S.-led forces drove Iraqi troops out of the emirate in 1991. Only a few thousand Palestinians stayed behind or have returned since.

Mr. Abbas, accompanied by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, was met at the airport by Kuwaiti Information Minister Mohammad Abulhasan, who is also acting foreign minister.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Qureia are the highest-ranking Palestinian officials to visit Kuwait since 1990. In 2001, PLO Executive Committee member Faisal al-Husseini died from a heart attack while on a visit there.

Mr. Abbas said he intended to seek financial aid from his hosts during the visit.

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