Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Youths riot in East Timor over naming Gusmao as PM

TURMOIL IN DILI The president's appointment of the independence hero has outraged the former ruling party, which began a boycott of parliament last week

AFP , DILI

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, center, talks to journalists next to Xanana Gusmao, left, who will be sworn in as prime minister today, and Fretilin Party Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri, right, in Dili yesterday. Gusmao's appointment sparked riots.

PHOTO: AFP

Mobs ran amok in East Timor's capital Dili and other towns yesterday to protest the naming of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as prime minister, as the former ruling party vowed to fight the move in court.

Youths hurled rocks, set up road blockades and torched buildings in the capital and two other towns, the UN mission here said, with police and international peacekeepers rushing to keep outbreaks of violence under control.

The incidents came a day after East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta named Gusmao to lead a coalition government -- without the ex-ruling Fretilin party -- which broke a deadlock following inconclusive polls in June.

The decision angered supporters of Gusmao's long-time arch rival, ex-prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who said yesterday that his party members would sit in opposition in parliament, even though he called the new government "illegal."

In one skirmish, some 100 youths from a mainly pro-Fretilin refugee camp near Dili's international airport pelted cars and a patrol of about 30 police who were sent to contain them after they burned tires on the streets.

Police sirens echoed around the seaside capital later in the day, but the streets appeared calmer.

In the Fretilin stronghold of eastern Baucau, hundreds of people paraded through town, torched two cars and set the offices of a local aid organisation and a sports hall on fire, journalist Mario Pinto said.

Pro-Fretilin mobs in the eastern town of Viqueque set fire to five houses belonging to local politicians from opposing parties that formed an alliance with Gusmao, Pinto said.

Fretilin won just 21 seats in East Timor's 65-seat parliament in the June elections, well short of the absolute majority required to govern.

Gusmao heads the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), the second-largest vote winner. The party has since entered a coalition with three smaller parties, which together hold 37 seats.

Fretilin said in a statement that it would contest the decision to form a government run by Gusmao through the courts, but Alkatiri said lawmakers would in the meantime sit in opposition. The party's lawmakers had begun a boycott of parliament last week.

The top UN official in East Timor, Atul Khare, met separately with Alkatiri to ask for his support in quelling the violence, the UN mission in Dili said.

Gusmao was scheduled to be sworn in as prime minister today.

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