Palestinians to commemorate first anniversary of Arafat’s death

Palestinians are commemorating the first anniversary of the death of their former leader Yasser Arafat. Thousands of people are expected to attend a rally in the West Bank in his honour, 12 months since he died in a Paris hospital aged 75. The foundation stone of a new Arafat museum complex will also be laid.

Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is among top officials expected to address large crowds during an afternoon rally after Friday prayers. Religious leaders and foreign diplomats have been invited to attend the commemorations in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Several thousand people joined a rally organised by the ruling Fatah party on Thursday night at which leaders of all the major factions sat beneath a large portrait of the former leader. "We will remain loyal to the path of Yasser Arafat," said top Fatah official Abdullah Franji, pledging to carry on the struggle for a Palestinian state.

The party, founded by Arafat in 1965, has organised another rally in Gaza City on Saturday. Speculation over the cause of Arafat's death in a French military hospital continues among Palestinians.

A Palestinian ministerial inquiry proved inconclusive but said his death was not caused by germs, cancer, poisoning or Aids. His wife, Suha, refused to allow an autopsy. The BBC's Alan Johnston in Jerusalem says that a year after Arafat's death, arguments continue over his legacy.

While supporters say he put the Palestinian cause at the centre of the world's attention, critics argue that he failed to start laying proper foundations for a future Palestinian state.

Where Arafat was charismatic, a populist and a political wheeler-dealer, our correspondent says, Mr Abbas is a grey and rather grandfatherly figure with no love of political cut-and-thrust. Although he has tried to draw militant groups into a lasting ceasefire, Mr Abbas has never succeeded in really asserting himself, our correspondent says, and his party Fatah is in disarray and under challenge from the militant group Hamas. There is a sense of drift and Palestinians worry about the deteriorating economy. At the same time, they feel no closer to establishing a viable state of their own, our correspondent concludes, reports BBC news. I.L.

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