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Abbas Claims Victory In Palestinian Election

10 January 2005 -- Mahmoud Abbas has claimed victory in yesterday's election for president of the Palestinian Authority.

Exit polls show Abbas -- the candidate of the Fatah movement -- winning more than 65 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, pro-democracy activist Mustafa Barghouthi, had about 20 percent.

"We offer this victory to the soul of the brother-martyr, Yasser Arafat, and we must pray on his soul," he said. "We also dedicate [the victory] to all the martyrs and wounded and to the 11,000 prisoners behind [Israeli prison] bars." The death of Arafat in November raised hopes for new peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. Abbas has called for an end to armed struggle.

Official results, however, are expected later today. U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "heartened" by the strong voter turnout, which was reported at about 65 percent. Bush said yesterday's election was -- along with an upcoming parliamentary poll -- essential for establishing a Palestinian state.

Abbas continued: "There are difficult tasks ahead: How are we going to build a state of security and safety? How do we find an honorable life for our citizens? How shall we solve the issue of prisoners [in Israeli jails]? How to solve the
issue of our fugitives? How do we solve the problem of our Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital?"