Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Coalition proposed in East Timor

NO COMMENT Former president Xanana Gusmao declined to say if he would take the top government job of prime minister if the coalition proposal was accepted


East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao proposed a coalition government of four parties yesterday, excluding the ruling party that won weekend parliamentary elections.

The alliance, led by his National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, will submit a formal request to President Jose Ramos-Horta for approval, he told reporters in the capital, Dili.

Gusmao, the former president who is revered for his role in East Timor's break from Indonesia after a 24-year occupation, declined to say if he would take the top government job of prime minister if the proposal is accepted.

We "have decided to come together and form a coalition to form a new government ... and accept the call to take responsibility of governance," Gusmao said.

The coalition represents a majority in the 65-seat parliament, but does not include the ruling Fretilin party that secured 29 percent of the vote in last Saturday's poll. Fretilin has said it would try to form its own government or go into opposition if unsuccessful.

"Fretilin will become strong opposition in the parliament or continue as a minority government," spokesman Filomenno Alexio said. "We will decide tomorrow."

If Fretilin formed a minority government it would be vastly outnumbered in the legislature, and this weakness could hold up badly needed economic development and prolong political instability following a year of violence and political turmoil.

Ramos-Horta, who has won the Nobel Peace prize, on Thursday called for a government of national unity, saying he feared a coalition that didn't include all major parties would collapse within months.

Mari Alkatiri, head of Fretilin, has said his party was in talks with several other blocs about forming a governing coalition, but ruled out any deal with Gusmao's party, a bitter rival.

While it led the election, Fretilin's share of the vote was only half of what it took in a 2001 election.

That widely predicted slide was largely a result of anger at the slow pace of development since independence, analysts said.

East Timor, a Portuguese colony for 450 years, in 2002 became an independent state, but is struggling to recover stability after a murderous scorched-earth campaign by pro-Indonesian forces devastated 70 percent of the infrastructure.

As many as 200,000 people died under Indonesian rule, many from starvation.

In April and May last year, the country of 1 million people de-scended into chaos when fighting between police and soldiers led to gang warfare, looting and arson, causing the deaths of 37 people and driving more than 155,000 from their homes.

Foreign peacekeepers restored relative calm, but East Timor is still plagued by unemployment and about 10 percent of the people still live in refugee camps or with relatives, too scared to return home because of continuing gang violence.

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