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Palestinian Group Picks Abbas as Presidential Candidate

Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is a candidate in upcoming elections to succeed Yasser Arafat. The nomination followed a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who promised American support for the elections and received Israeli assurances to help facilitate the process by loosening travel restrictions in the Palestinian territories.

Within hours after meeting with Colin Powell in the West Bank town of Jericho, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas was formally nominated as Fatah's candidate in the January 9 elections.

The nomination was widely expected. Mr. Abbas has the support of the Central Committee of Fatah, the largest and most influential faction in the PLO umbrella organization.

The 69-year-old Mr. Abbas was a long-time confidante of Yasser Arafat and for years his number-two man in the PLO. He is a former prime minister, a moderate who has denounced violence and is seen as a technocrat and favorite of the United States and Israel.

In some ways he might just be what Palestinians want right now. Sociologist Nader Izzat Sa'id of Ramallah's Birzeit University says recent opinion polls have shown that Palestinians are tired of the usual politicians and of one-man rule.

"In the long-run Palestinians would like to see economic development and they would like to see at the same time an end to occupation," he said. "But they would also like to see that this is done in a proper way and a culture of institutions is created and not reliance on one person."

Mr. Abbas' handling of the smooth transition after Mr. Arafat's death to a collective interim leadership has increased his popularity. Not long ago he was deemed to have almost no grassroots support, but according to an opinion survey conducted after Mr. Arafat's death, 27 percent of those questioned said they favor Mahmoud Abbas as a leader.

But Mr. Abbas does not yet have full support within Fatah. He is a member of the "old guard," and many younger Fatah members want change. Some favor one of their own, 45-year-old Marwan Barghouti as a candidate.

The problem is Mr. Barghouti, a charismatic Fatah activist, is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for involvement in terrorism. Younger Fatah members are expected to meet Wednesday to decide whether to oppose or support the Abbas nomination.

Mr. Abbas faces few potential challengers - they include a little-known former minister from Hebron and a political science professor from Nablus. Militant factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have said they will not participate in the upcoming vote.