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Arafat Asks Mahmoud Abbas to Accept PM Position - 2003-03-19

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Wednesday formally asked his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, to accept the new post of prime minister in the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Arafat announced the move one day after the Palestinian parliament approved legislation establishing the new position.

Mr. Arafat has taken the first step toward sharing power since he took control of the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

He has sent a letter to Mahmoud Abbas, the number two man in the Palestine Liberation Organization, asking him to become prime minister.

There is no word yet on whether Mr. Abbas has accepted the position. But after being nominated by Mr. Arafat as well as a central body of the PLO, Palestinian officials say it is unlikely Mr. Abbas will turn down the offer.

The Palestinian leader agreed to appoint Mr. Abbas only after intense international pressure. And during debate this week on the bill creating the position, Mr. Arafat also tried to limit the powers of the prime minister.

The Palestinian parliament rejected Mr. Arafat's effort and, under the legislation, the prime minister will have the final say over cabinet appointments.

In his letter to Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, Mr. Arafat also called on him to form a new cabinet following his appointment.

Though Mr. Arafat may be less than enthusiastic about the new position, many Palestinian lawmakers have for years pushed for the appointment of a prime minister, believing it would help reduce corruption and mismanagement.

The creation of the post of prime minister is also one of the conditions set down by President Bush for the United States to issue an internationally backed peace plan for the Mideast.

The plan, a so-called "road map" to peace, proposes an end to violence and the founding of a Palestinian state within the next three years.