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Asian Leaders Oppose Israeli Threat to Oust Arafat - 2003-09-12


Many Asian leaders oppose Israel's threat to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. They fear the move could worsen tensions in the Middle East.

China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia on Friday voiced concern that efforts to sideline the Palestinian president could hinder the peace process and destabilize the Middle East.

Israel's Security Cabinet decided in principle on Thursday to remove Yasser Arafat after two suicide bombings killed 15 people in Israel on Tuesday. Hamas militants have taken credit for the attacks.

China's Foreign Ministry warns that any action against Mr. Arafat will increase tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and will not help the peace process. The ministry also emphasizes in a statement that Mr. Arafat is a legitimate leader elected by the Palestinian people.

Indonesia also rejects the move against Mr. Arafat. The world's most populous Muslim nation says it will rally support from other nations against Israel's decision.

Malaysia has already called on the United States and other world powers to block efforts to oust Mr. Arafat. Both Indonesia and Malaysia are strong supporters of the Palestinians and have no ties with Israel.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says removing Mr. Arafat would make him a martyr. He thinks Israelis should try to focus instead on working with the Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Korei.

"Whatever reservations we have about Yasser Arafat and we have many, he certainly hasn't delivered peace to the region," Mr. Downer said. " To remove Yasser Arafat all together would, I think, make him a martyr. I think the Israelis would be well advised to leave Yasser Arafat in place and to deal as best they possibly can with the new Palestinian prime minister, who is well known to us and is a very good man."

The Israeli a government says that Mr. Arafat is "an absolute obstacle to all attempts at reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Israel's vow to remove the 74-year-old leader has also prompted the United States, France and Russia to speak out firmly against any such action. All three countries are backers of the Middle East "road map" for peace.

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