BARGHOUTI
Nasser Nasser  /  AP file
Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences in Israel.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/12/2004 1:58:44 PM ET 2004-12-12T18:58:44

Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned leader of the Palestinian uprising, is dropping out the Jan. 9 election to replace Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority, his campaign manager said Sunday.

Barghouti is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison after being convicted in connection with deadly Palestinian attacks. His wife filed his candidacy papers just before the deadline less than two weeks ago.

The last-minute decision threw Palestinian politics into turmoil. Barghouti’s party, Fatah, had already nominated Arafat’s longtime deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, as its candidate. Last week, polls showed that Barghouti, running as an independent, virtually tied with Abbas.

Making a gesture many had long demanded Abbas apologized Sunday for the Palestinians’ support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Barghouti criticizes Fatah leaders
Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, called a news conference in Ramallah to read a letter from her husband harshly critical of the Fatah leadership but implying that he would pull out of the race.

Ahmed Ghneim, Barghouthi’s campaign manager, confirmed the decision.

“Today, brother Marwan has decided to stop running as a candidate for the presidential election,” Ghneim told reporters in Ramallah. He read a letter in which Barghouthi pledged to support Abbas.

In the letter, Barghouti made a list of demands of Abbas. He rejected moves to disarm militant groups — a key Israeli demand — and said no agreement should be made without the release of all prisoners. He did not present the demands as conditions for his support.

Israel has said Barghouti, who is serving five life terms after convictions in deadly Palestinian attacks, will not be freed.

Barghouti, a leader of Fatah’s restless young guard, came under stiff criticism from Fatah activists for when he announced his bid at the last minute late last month after initially promising to stay out of the race in order to ensure an orderly transition after Arafat’s death Nov. 11.

Barghouti, who has strong backing among Palestinians who generally support Islamic militant opposition groups, has justified attacks on Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza as legitimate resistance to occupation, but also supports the creation of a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel. Israel has ruled out releasing him from prison.

The largest of these groups, Hamas, has called for a boycott of the presidential elections, although it is not clear if its supporters would heed the call.

Palestinians last held general elections in 1996.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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