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World - Middle East

Arafat critics defiant despite more arrests in crackdown

A Palestinian vows 'We will not be silenced' during a protest in support of the detained dissidents  

November 29, 1999
Web posted at: 9:04 p.m. EST (0204 GMT)

In this story:

'We will not backtrack'

Student: Arafat heads 'a police state'

Lawmakers have immunity from arrest


From staff and wire reports

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian security forces detained four more intellectuals who signed a leaflet urging Palestinians to battle "tyranny, corruption and political deceit" in Yasser Arafat's government, a Palestinian legislator said Monday.

The arrests brought to 11 the number of signatories detained, all academics or professionals.

Despite the arrests and threat of further punishment, the dissidents refused to retract the manifesto, which also criticized the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Only the nine legislators who signed the leaflet remained free, said lawmaker Moa'wiah al-Masri, who visited fellow signatories Monday in a Palestinian jail in the West Bank town of Nablus.

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Eight of the signatories are being held in Palestinian prisons, lawmakers said. Three others, including a Esmat al- Shaqshir, a female teacher, and Bassam al-Shak'a, former mayor of Nablus, were under house arrest.

'We will not backtrack'

The bloc of lawmakers representing Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction condemned the signatories and urged them to retract their criticism. But the dissidents refused.

"We will not backtrack from what we have signed," said lawmaker Rawiyah al-Shawwa.

"Some parties have distorted the message of what we wrote," she said. "Our aim was only to raise our voices to the president, and we were sure he would act to restore unity and in the public interest."

The manifesto signed by intellectuals and lawmakers accused Arafat of corruption  

The leaflet, which details disappointment over the peace process with Israel, closes with a blast at official graft:

"Alarm bells should ring in every village, town and refugee camp as well as in every corner, every shop, home and office.... Let us join hands to confront this tyranny and corruption."

Student: Arafat heads 'a police state'

In Jerusalem, Palestinian students critical of Arafat's government passed out copies of the leaflet. "It's really a corrupt system. It's a police state," one speaker said. Another called it an "embarrassment and shame."

Arafat supporters attempted a counter-demonstration but were greatly outnumbered by the critics.

The government crackdown sparked condemnations from human rights groups and a wide spectrum of Palestinian political factions. Late Monday, Palestinian groups including the militant Muslim Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued a joint statement in Gaza rejecting "all forms of political terrorism."

Arafat supporters
Arafat supporters hold counter-rally  

The statement said such terrorism included "waving the threat of lifting the parliamentary immunity" of the nine lawmaker- signatories.

Lawmakers have immunity from arrest

Arafat had urged parliament to revoke the lawmakers' immunity from arrest. But Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath, while denouncing the leaflet as "incitement and malicious," indicated that lawmakers' immunity from arrest would be respected.

Arafat's critics say hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian Authority income are unaccounted for each budget year, including revenue from the government's monopoly on the import and sale of cement and fuel.

It was still unclear whether the 11 would be brought to trial. A prosecutor said the State Security Court was handling the investigation, but no decision had been taken on charges.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

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