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Palestinians Mourn Yasser Arafat, Look Forward to Elections


Palestinians filed past the burial site of Yasser Arafat on Saturday, a day after he was laid to rest in an emotional funeral in his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. At the same time Palestinian officials also announced they expect to hold elections by January 9 to choose a successor.

On Saturday the mood at Yasser Arafat's Muqata compound was calm and composed. Palestinians still filed past his marble coffin to lay wreaths, flowers and olive branches and to say prayers. But gone was the raw emotion that characterized his funeral a day earlier when tens of thousands of mourners swarmed in and around the compound to say goodbye to their leader of 40 years as he was laid to rest.

While Friday had been dedicated to remembering the Palestinian leader, the talk Saturday is turning toward the future. Palestinian law calls for elections within 60 days to choose a successor to Mr. Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. On Saturday, Palestinian officials said they expected to hold the vote within that timeframe. Some called on the international community to help by pressuring Israel into pulling back from the Palestinian territories to allow a proper election to take place.

Within hours after Mr. Arafat's funeral in Ramallah on Friday, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for reinvigorating efforts to establish a democratic Palestinian state and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mamoud Labadi is director-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He said the passing of Yasser Arafat marks a new phase in Palestinian politics and in efforts to obtain an independent state.

"First of all, we will have a collective leadership," said Mamoud Labadi. "We will not have all the authorities embodied in one person. We will hopefully have more attention from the international community. Mr. Yasser Arafat was declared irrelevant and not important by the Israelis and the Americans. Hopefully they will change their position and they will start to talk to the new Palestinian leadership."

Senior Palestinian leaders have already called for a resumption of peace efforts along the lines of the "road map," the internationally backed plan that was unveiled over a year ago, but that went nowhere because neither side implemented even the first stages of the peace proposal.

Israeli leaders have talked of new opportunities in a post-Arafat era, as have world leaders. So far, no details on how to restart peace efforts have been put on the table.