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Yasser Arafat Dead at 75; Palestinians Mourn - 2004-11-11


Palestinians begin a 40-day mourning period following the death, early Thursday morning, of their leader, Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat died in the military hospital outside of Paris, where he had been taken two weeks ago for urgent medical treatment.

The news had been expected. Yasser Arafat lay in a deep coma for the past week and Palestinian officials warned Wednesday that he was in his final hours.

The announcement came early Thursday morning.

Hospital spokesman, General Christian Estripeau, confirmed Yasser Arafat had died.

Palestinian officials announced the traditional Muslim mourning period. Flags at Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah were lowered to half staff and Palestinian television broadcasts carried excerpts from the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

In Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets to show their grief and gunmen fired into the air and people waved Palestinian flags.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat spoke of Mr. Arafat's legacy.

He said, He's the one who kept the Palestinian national identity from extinction. He gathered the Palestinian people, he united them and he kept the national identity alive. And, at the same time, his legacy will be that he initiated the peace of the brave. He's the one who began the peace process. He's the one who began the two-state solution and I think that will be his major legacy. It's very painful and heartbreaking that President Arafat is dead and the Israeli occupation of our land has not finished yet."

Yasser Arafat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1993 and a year later won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

But, many Israelis saw the Palestinian leader as a terrorist, who supported and inspired violence.

Palestinian officials have called for calm, unity and an orderly transition of power.

Mr. Arafat's body is to be taken to Cairo for a state funeral, Friday, before being flown to Ramallah where he is to be buried in his battered compound, the Muqata. But, Palestinians say that resting place is to be temporary. They insist he will one day be buried in Jerusalem's Old City, something the Israeli government has vowed will not happen.

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