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Palestinians Voting For New President

9 January 2005 -- Palestinian are voting today to elect a new Palestinian Authority president to replace Yasser Arafat, who died in November.

Opinion polls suggest that Palestine Liberation Organization head Mahmud Abbas will win the poll.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urged Israel to resume a peace process and said the Palestinian vote present a good example of how democracy works.

"This is the Palestinian people's message today to [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush personally," Erekat said. "We are your lead in your larger Middle East perspective of democracy, accountability, transparency, institution building and reforms. Watch the example of the Palestinian people less than 58 days after the death of their president and the burial of their president Yasser Arafat. They are going to elect a new president through 1.4 million votes and choosing from seven candidates. It's another first."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said today the U.S. would take a more active role in the Middle East after the Palestinian vote.

Also today, the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced it would respect the results of the vote, despite calls for a boycott by the main Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is quoted as saying that he is ready to meet the winner of the election as soon as possible.

Israeli police announced today it had prevented more than a dozen Israeli demonstrators from disrupting voting in disputed east Jerusalem.