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Home >> China
UPDATED: 08:25, November 12, 2004
Chinese people mourn for Yasser Arafat
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Despite the distance of 8,875 kilometers between Beijing and Paris, Yasser Arafat's death in France on Thursday morning (Beijing time) still inflicted pains on many Chinese people who have taken the legendary figure as their old friend.

"I'll never forget his trademark black-white kaffiyeh wrapped around his head, which has given me a knee-jerk reminder of the Palestinian people fighting as hard for national independence," said Zhao Yu, 26, in Beijing.

For most Chinese, their first impression of Arafat dated back to early 1980s when television sets started to enter Chinese households.

Arafat, along with Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, had been the foreign leaders granting the most limelight at that time.

Arafat himself has long been viewed by the Chinese government as "one of the old friends of Chinese people" since the two peoples share in the dream of realizing national independence and have to fight hard for it.

A few hours after the news was announced in Paris, Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a letter of condolences to Rawhi Fattuh, speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council.

In the letter, the president extended sincere condolences to the Palestinian people and Arafat's relatives. He praised him as "an outstanding leader of the Palestinian cause" and "a founder of Sino-Palestinian relations."

His death is not just a loss of the Palestinian people but also to the Chinese people who have been honored to have this great friend, the letter noted.

Late afternoon, Vice Premier Hui Liangyu flew to Cairo, Egypt, as Hu Jintao's special envoy, to attend Yasser Arafat's funeral. In the evening, Vice-President Zeng Qinghong visited the Palestinian embassy in Beijing and expressed condolences.

Before Arafat was sent to Paris for medical treatment on Oct. 29, the 75-year-old had been besieged by the Israeli army in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, known as Muqata for nearly three years.

Ever since he became the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he has dedicated himself to the establishment of an independent Palestine state. He survived more than 50 assassinations attempts and thus been viewed as the hero of Palestinian national struggle.

"I am mentally prepared to hear the sad news since rumor about his death started several days ago," said Zhang Ji, a post-graduate student at Beijing-based Renmin University of China, who has constantly followed up latest reports about him.

It's a consensus that his death will cloud the future of the Palestinian people and make the Middle East peace process increasingly unpredictable. Whatever direction the Middle East issue may go in, Arafat and his contributions have left an indelible mark, he said.

"Few could dedicate himself to a lifetime cause and consistently go for the best scenario. But that's the case with Arafat. How successful he may be, I admired him," Zhang said.

In 1994 Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize together with Israel's then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for their efforts in the Middle East peace process.

On the Internet, many Chinese joined bulletin boards and left their notes to express condolences. Many of them recalled his saying: With an olive branch and a gun for freedom, I came here. Please don't let the olive branch slip off my hand.

Shen Jiping in his 80s had been a soldier in World War II. "There was no quick victory in fighting for freedom and peace. To keep the olive branch evergreen, more countries and people need to join the cause against power politics and the infringement upon human rights," he said.

In front of a news stand near a high school affiliated to the Beijing Normal School in Beijing, Lu Nuo and his school mates snacked up newspaper with headline stories about Arafat's death.

"I believed I heard of him but I wished I had time to learn more," said Lu, aged 17. "When someone died and the whole world is talking about him, you certainly want to find out why," he said.

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