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France opens Arafat murder inquiry

French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into Palestinian leader's death after claims he died of radioactive polonium poisoning.

PARIS // French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's 2004 death near Paris, sources close to the matter said yesterday.

The probe comes after Arafat's family launched legal action in France last month over claims the veteran Palestinian leader died of radioactive polonium poisoning.

Arafat's widow Suha and his daughter Zawra lodged a murder complaint on July 31 in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Arafat died at a military hospital near Paris in 2004.

Allegations that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was poisoned were resurrected last month after Al Jazeera news channel broadcast an investigation in which experts said they found high levels of polonium on his personal effects.

Polonium is a highly toxic substance which is rarely found outside military and scientific circles, and was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.

Suha Arafat has said she backs exhuming her late husband's remains from his mausoleum in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

A Swiss radiology lab at the Lausanne University Hospital Centre said on Friday it has received Suha Arafat's go-ahead to test his remains for poisoning by polonium.

Arafat, who led the struggle for Palestinian statehood for nearly four decades, died in a French military hospital after being airlifted there for treatment from his Ramallah headquarters.

At the time of his death, Palestinian officials alleged he had been poisoned by long-time foe Israel, but an inconclusive Palestinian investigation in 2005 ruled out poisoning, as well as cancer and AIDS.

Israel has consistently denied the allegations, accusing Suha Arafat and Palestinian officials of covering up the real reasons for the former leader's death.

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