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Under pressure, Arafat agrees to reshuffle cabinet

Arafat
Arafat  

In this story:

December 29, 1997
Web posted at: 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT)

GAZA, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- Charges of corruption in his government and a looming no-confidence vote have forced Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to promise to assemble a new cabinet.

"The president has accepted the government's resignation but asked the ministers to stay in position until he makes the reshuffle," spokesman Marwan Kanafani said Monday.

Arafat reportedly made the promise during a meeting Sunday night with members of the Fatah faction of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The 88-member council is unsatisfied with Arafat's response to charges earlier in the year that his government squandered $326 million in public funds in 1996. It had scheduled a no-confidence vote on Arafat's government for Tuesday.

Further fueling the council's resolve was the fact that the auditor who found that money had been squandered had investigated only a fraction of government offices.

The auditor did not investigate the security and military branches or Arafat's office, raising further questions about whether the corruption extends to those branches as well.

Arafat dodges reporters' questions

After the allegations were publicized last summer, 16 of the authority's cabinet ministers offered their resignations. Arafat, however, asked them to remain in their posts.

Arafat sidestepped reporters' questions Monday about whether he had accepted the resignation of his cabinet.

"First of all, they had offered their resignations some time ago, but I asked them to carry on," he said, declining to make any further comment.

Arafat met with the Fatah members of the council after they threatened to vote for a no-confidence motion unless Arafat reshuffled his government and implemented resolutions offered by the council months ago.

The council has complained that Arafat has ignored its work and failed to sign a Basic Law delineating relations between legislature, the judiciary and the executive branch.

Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah legislator from Ramallah, said Arafat promised to sign 18 of the 37 laws drafted by the legislative council since its inception in 1996 -- including a freedom of speech guarantee.

"This is a positive step," Barghouti said. "But the true test will be on the ground, when things are implemented."

'I think Arafat is serious this time'

Palestinian officials and council members say Fatah is the only faction that can put enough pressure on Arafat to carry out reforms. The faction could bring down his government.

A Palestinian official said it was the first time Arafat had agreed to make changes in the cabinet. Previously he has said that he had no intention of making any changes.

"I think Arafat is serious this time. However, it is not clear from the meeting last night how Arafat is going to make the changes. He did not say whether he was going to change the whole cabinet or carry out a limited reshuffle," said a Fatah council member who declined to be identified.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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