Gusmao sworn in as East Timor PM

PROTEST: Fretilin supporters held a brief demonstration outside the government's offices as the new Cabinet arrived, but the rest of Dili was reported to be largely calm


Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 5

Former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao pledged to unite East Timor as he was sworn in yesterday as the young country's new prime minister at a ceremony boycotted by the previous ruling party.

The independence hero and his new government take charge of an impoverished nation scarred by more than a year of tension and political uncertainty since deadly unrest in the capital, Dili.

"I swear to God, to the people and on my honor, that I will fulfill with loyalty the functions that have been invested in me," he said in Portuguese as President Jose Ramos-Horta administered the oath. "I will abide by and enforce the Constitution and the laws, and will dedicate all my energy to the defense and consolidation of independence and national unity."

In a speech after the ceremony he promised to reform the nation, a former Portuguese colony, saying "this mandate clearly shows the political wishes of all Timorese to introduce changes."

Portuguese guards, part of an international security presence deployed in the wake of last year's unrest, patrolled outside the presidential palace as lawmakers, diplomats, clergy and senior UN officials attended inside.

Jose Luis Guterres, a former foreign minister and a member of a breakaway faction of the previously ruling Fretilin, was named as deputy prime minister, with 12 other ministers making up the Cabinet.

Ramos-Horta on Monday invited Gusmao's coalition to form a government after inconclusive polls on June 30. The coalition has 37 seats in the 65-seat parliament.

Fretilin won the most votes in the election but not the absolute majority required to govern. It insists it should have been asked to lead and plans to fight the decision in the courts.

East Timor's constitution was ambiguous on who should rule following the polls, but gives Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize laureate, the authority to choose.

The announcement triggered sporadic, low-level violence in Dili and across the tiny country.

Angry youths hurled rocks, set up road blocks and torched buildings in the capital and two other towns, but some 3,000 international peacekeepers and UN police have managed to rein in the unrest.

Fretilin's Mari Alkatiri, who stepped down as prime minister after violence last year, promised on Tuesday to ask his supporters to quell the trouble.

In a statement yesterday his party reiterated that it "strongly opposes all violent responses."

About 100 Fretilin supporters held a brief protest yesterday outside the main government offices as the new Cabinet members arrived, and the rest of Dili was reported to be largely calm.

The head of the emergency ward at Dili's main hospital said four people had been brought in with injuries from violence in the past two days, including a woman injured by a rubber bullet.

International forces were sent to East Timor after clashes between military and police factions, and youth gangs, in April and May last year.

At least 37 people were killed and some 150,000 others forced from their homes. An estimated 100,000 people, about 10 percent of the population, still shelter in camps, too afraid to return or with no homes to go back to.