crackafat lingering on

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    A rapid decline in Palestinian president Yasser Arafat's health has prompted intense speculation about the future of Palestinian governance.

    Mr Arafat, 75, is in a critical condition in a French hospital.

    Some reports have said he is brain dead and a life support system is keeping him alive.

    Palestinian officials have denied those reports, although they concede that Mr Arafat is seriously ill.

    In the absence of an anointed successor, there are fears that Mr Arafat's death could spark a violent power struggle in the Palestinian territories.

    Palestinian security chiefs have been summoned to a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah and Israel has placed its forces in the West Bank and Gaza on alert.

    But Palestinian official Saeb Erekat insists the administration is capable of functioning without Mr Arafat.

    "We're not a group [of] tribes scattered here and there or tribal chiefs," he said.

    "We have institutions, we have laws, we have all basic laws.

    "Institutions are running and the executive branch and the cabinet continues to be run by Mr Ahmed Qurei who is also now running the National Security Council."

    Mr Arafat has for decades been the symbol of the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

    He was flown to the French hospital from his headquarters in the West Bank last week and is in its intensive care unit.

    Dozens of supporters have gathered in front of the hospital in Paris, waving flags and holding up pictures of Mr Arafat.

    -Reuters

    Poor France, it will not be french much longer.
    Dave R.
 
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