International troops stepped up patrols in East Timor's capital yesterday as East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta recuperated in Australia after an assassination bid doctors said he was lucky to survive.
Residents packed markets as usual, seemingly oblivious to a state of emergency declared following audacious attacks by renegade soldiers on both the president and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unscathed.
The assaults heralded a renewed crisis for violence-weary East Timor, where Australian-led peacekeepers and UN police were deployed in 2006 to quell unrest between military and police factions that left at least 37 dead.
Some 340 Australian soldiers and police were poised to leave for East Timor yesterday as reinforcements at Gusmao's request, defense officials in Canberra said.
The prime minister told a meeting of communities from Portuguese-speaking countries at a downtown hotel that the current situation in the fledgling nation is "normal, and all is stable."
"We all hope that Dr Jose Ramos-Horta will soon recover from this difficult phase and resume leading the country," Gusmao said.
Interim president Vicente Guterres issued a decree at the prime minister's request saying a state of emergency had come into force from 10pm on Monday evening and would last for an initial 48 hours.
Under the emergency, a curfew will be in place from 8pm to 6am, while all gatherings and rallies were banned, the decree said.
Ramos-Horta was in a serious but stable condition following overnight surgery for bullet wounds, doctors said in the Australian city of Darwin where he was airlifted on Monday.
"I believe he is extremely lucky to be alive," Royal Darwin Hospital General Manager Len Notaras said.
Ramos-Horta, 58, underwent two-and-a-half hours of surgery late Monday but was in intensive care recovering well from his second operation in 24 hours after being shot in the chest and back, the doctor said.
"The operation went well and President Ramos-Horta is quite stable," Notaras said, adding that doctors were treating three bullet wounds and that the head of state would need a further operation within 36 hours.
Ramos-Horta, who was reportedly out walking when gun-toting rebels arrived at his residence, was hit by two or possibly three bullets that formed three deep wounds in his lower chest and back, Notaras said.
He was sedated and on a ventilator, but the doctor said he was not on life support. The president would remain unconscious and in intensive care until at least tomorrow, he said.
"We are quietly confident that as long as there are no untoward complications, such as infections and so forth, we expect to have a reasonable path forward and to see a full recovery," he said.
The international community expressed outrage over the attack on the Nobel peace laureate, who became known on the diplomatic circuit as he campaigned for East Timor's independence from Indonesia from the 1970s.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and ruled the former Portuguese colony brutally until 1999, when the UN took charge and the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favor of breaking away.
US President George W. Bush condemned the assassination attempt but said the failed attack would not threaten democratic rule in the young country, which became independent in 2002.
"Those who are responsible must know that they cannot derail democracy in Timor-Leste, and they will be held accountable for their actions," Bush said in a statement, referring to East Timor by its official name.