January 10, 2005

LONDON--World leaders on Monday welcomed the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Authority president, saying it showed Palestinians want to reform their government and find a negotiated solution with Israel. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country and other European nations would do everything possible to help Abbas create an "independent, viable and democratic" Palestinian state.

"I trust that the Palestinian people will follow the path you have chosen of renouncing violence and carrying out comprehensive reforms," Schroeder wrote in a telegram to Abbas, whom he invited to visit Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also sent a message to the Palestinian leader, looking forward to cooperation on achieving "a just Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of the 'road map' (peace plan) and resolutions of the UN Security Council.

"I am sure that your example of political experience will permit you to effectively perform the lofty mission entrusted to you by the Palestinian people," Putin wrote, according to his press office.

President Bush said he would welcome Abbas to the White House, extending an invitation he refused to offer to the late Yasser Arafat.

"I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here," Bush said, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office.

Abbas, who has spoken out against violence, is widely seen as a pragmatist committed to resuming peace talks with Israel, although he faces the tough task of reining in powerful armed groups.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw congratulated Abbas after the landslide victory in the vote to replace Arafat, who led the Palestinian movement during four chaotic and corruption-riddled decades until his death Nov. 11.

"The Palestinian people have already demonstrated their commitment to democracy," Straw told a news conference. "The challenge now is for the new president to use his mandate to lay the foundations for a new Palestinian state."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair planned to speak to Abbas by phone later Monday, Blair's spokesman said. The two politicians met last month in Ramallah to discuss a March 1-2 conference in London on reconstructing Palestinian institutions.

Final results later showed that Abbas won 62.3 percent of the vote.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said the peaceful vote was "a victory for democracy, a first victory for peace."

"No incident, a strong turnout: It's a proof of responsibility and maturity that the Palestinians have given," Barnier told the French daily newspaper Le Parisien.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the election of the pragmatic Palestinian "adds to the credibility of the peace process."

"The elections went well. We await the final outcome" that pivots on a 'Road Map' peace plan drawn up by the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations, said Barroso.

The EU deployed some 200 election observers for the Palestinian vote in its largest election monitoring program ever. The operation cost $18.3 million.

Austria's foreign minister, Ursula Plassnik, called Abbas' election "an encouraging step toward peace" in the Middle East.

Top Chinese and Japanese officials also congratulated Abbas on his victory. "Japan will work actively to support the Palestinian Authority's efforts at peace," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.

Japan has supported Palestinian state-building efforts since 1993 and was actively involved in helping the elections. It sent international observers and earlier announced $65 million in aid to help support the new leadership, as well as fund education and infrastructure.

The election, the first Palestinian presidential vote in nine years, proceeded largely without incident. In one incident, gunmen fired in the air in an election office and in Jerusalem, voters complained of confusing arrangements.

There was some confusion about voter participation, a possible point of contention between Abbas' Fatah movement, which was pushing for a high turnout, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which had called for a boycott.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said Monday that Beijing will "continue as always to support the efforts of the Palestinian people as they strive to reclaim their legitimate national rights."

"China is happy about the smooth election. We accept the choice made by the Palestinian people and sincerely hope that the newly elected leader will lead the Palestinian people to the early achievement of their goal of establishing their own state," he said in a written response to journalist's questions published by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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