Qureia says he wants 'less radical' cabinet

The embattled Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia sought to defuse a political crisis yesterday by planning a radically altered list of mainly 'technocratic' Cabinet ministers to replace a previous one angrily rejected by parliamentarians.

The embattled Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia sought to defuse a political crisis yesterday by planning a radically altered list of mainly 'technocratic' Cabinet ministers to replace a previous one angrily rejected by parliamentarians.

Mr Queria is expected to seek approval this morning for a new Cabinet less dominated by Fatah figures, some though not all of them closely associated with Yasser Arafat, when the Palestinian Legislative Council reconvenes in Ramallah.

In a move which some Palestinian politicians interpreted as a welcome upsurge of democratic independence, members of the PLC on Monday queued up to denounce his earlier choice on the grounds that it made only 'cosmetic' changes to his Cabinet.

A vote to approve the Cabinet was put off for the second time to allow the Prime Minister to produce a new list today. While Mahmoud Abbas, who reappointed Mr Qureia as Prime Minister when he was elected President, has stood publicly aloof from the row, at least one of the President's allies emphasized that the original list had been that of Mr Qureia and not Mr Abbas.

But last night the exact make-up of the new list was far from clear. Mr Qureia reportedly told a closed session of the PLC that he now planned to appoint a Cabinet largely made up of experts and 'professionals' who, unlike a majority of the present Cabinet, were not members of the PLC.

Saeb Erekat, a long standing Cabinet minister, told reporters after the meeting that Mr Qureia now planned to seek the Council's approval for a Cabinet in which only two members of the PLC would be included. But neither Mr Erekat nor other senior PA officials would confirm speculation that Mr Erekat and another long time Fatah figure, Nabil Shaath, the Foreign Minister, whom Mr Qureia planned to switch to the role of Deputy Prime Minister, would be the two PLC members retaining their places on the list.

If such a formula were adopted were taken it would leave in place the Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who is not a PLC member and commands wide respect both at home and abroad as highly competent professional - and is seen by some legislators as the model of the sort of technocratic performer Mr Qureia claimed to the PLC yesterday he wanted to appoint.

But it would also mean dropping - among others - from the list Nabil Amr, a PLC member who had been slated as the new Minister of Information and who is a close ally of Mr Abbas. Mr Amr, an open critic of Yasser Arafat before his death, resigned from the same post when Mr Abbas stood down as Prime Minister in 2003 and lost a leg after being shot by a mystery gunman at his home last year.

Mr Erekat complained yesterday that the Palestinians had been accused of being 'chaotic' when in fact the events of the last 48 hours represented the 0Ûÿgrowth of Palestinian democracy' and would have been accepted as a healthy democratic process in Europe or the US.

After Monday's often heated PLC meeting, Abdel Jawwad Saleh, a prominent independent member of the PLC who was among the leading protesters yesterday, later complained that too many of the proposed Cabinet did 'not stand seriously against corruption.'

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