News and Information
Africans salute Yasser Arafat
|November 11, 2004
| African leaders have expressed their sadness at the death of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki said Mr Arafat's life was defined by unflinching sacrifice for his cause.
He had given hope to millions "by instilling in them the knowledge and consciousness that despite current difficulties, they hold the gift of freedom in their hands". President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya called Mr Arafat a "symbol of his people".
"I join the rest of the world in expressing my loss and sorrow at the death of President Yasser Arafat," he said.
Many Africans identifed with the Palestinians struggle for nationhood, while Tunisia hosted Mr Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation from 1982 to 1994.
Pictures of Palestinian youths confronting Israeli tanks with stones reminded many of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, BBC correspondent Martin Plaut says.
The African National Congress said the Palestinians had "lost a dedicated leader".
South African pro-Palestinian groups protest outside the Johannesburg conference centre 20 October, 2004, waiting for Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Many Africans campaigned for the Palestinians
"The ANC will remember Arafat as a long-standing comrade, who closely identified with the South African liberation movement," the ANC said in a statement.
The chairman of the commission of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konare, described Mr Arafat as a hero of the Palestinian struggle for an independent homeland of Palestine.
"[He] pursued the noble cause until his end."
Yasser Arafat with Wassila Ben Ammar, wife of former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba, in Tunis in 1985
Tunisia hosted Arafat
The African Union - where flags were flying at half-mast - confirmed in a statement "its commitment to the struggle of the Palestinian people for an independent homeland of Palestine".
In Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo expressed his "immense sadness".
He wrote in a letter to the interim president of the Palestinian Authority: "We understand very well that Yasser Arafat had become much more than a leader of your people.
"He had become the living symbol and embodiment of their long and valiant struggle for their rightful place in the comity of nations."
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali praised the Palestinian leader's "high virtues".
Africa and Israel
Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt have declared three days of mourning.
The South African, Tunisian, Djibouti and Senegalese presidents are expected to attend Mr Arafat's funeral on Friday while Prince Moulay Rachid will attend from Morocco and Mr Konare from the AU.
However, our correspondent points out that although African states went out of their way to accord diplomatic support to the Palestinian cause, few did much more.
Most countries continued to trade with and recognise Israel.
Although Africa's heart may have been with Mr Arafat, pragmatism ruled its relationships with the Middle East, our correspondent says.
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