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Abbas Approved as First Palestinian Prime Minister - 2003-04-29

The Palestinian parliament has approved Mahmoud Abbas as the first prime minister. The decision clears the way for the U.S. government to present a long-promised new international peace plan for the Middle East.

The Palestinian Legislative Council endorsed Mr. Abbas' cabinet at a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah by a vote of 51 to 18, with three abstentions.

Lawmakers cheered the result before kissing and congratulating Mr. Abbas, the first Palestinian prime minister, who declared himself happy with Palestinian democracy.

The new cabinet, to be sworn in Wednesday, is the result of intense international pressure on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to give up some of his powers and implement democratic reforms.

Ordinary Palestinians, who say they want an end to corruption and mismanagement within the Palestinian Authority, also pushed for change.

The ministers in the new cabinet include both critics of Mr. Arafat and loyalists from within his Fatah faction, the dominant group in the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Before the vote, Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, repeated his opposition to terrorist attacks on Israelis. In his first policy speech, he denounced terrorism and promised to control militant groups and illegal weapons.

Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, cautiously welcomed his address, saying it was a good start.

But militant groups, including Hamas, immediately rejected any attempt to disarm them, saying they would continue to launch attacks against Israelis.

Mr. Abbas also called for the removal of all Israeli settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, and for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The White House has welcomed the vote of the Palestinian parliament and reaffirmed President Bush's pledge to publish a Middle East roadmap to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The plan is also supported by Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.