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22 May 2024

East Timor PM seeks state of emergency extension

By Agencies

East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on Wednesday proposed extending a state of emergency until February 23 and called for calm following an assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta.


Ramos-Horta was critically wounded by gunfire from rebel soldiers early on Monday, while Gusmao escaped unhurt in a separate attack on his motorcade.


Some analysts had said East Timor could suffer further violence and political chaos after rebel leader Alfredo Reinado died in the attack on Ramos-Horta. Australia sent troops to Dili this week to enforce a state of emergency and help with security.


"This emergency status is not intended to hinder people's activities but to allow the normalisation of the situation," Gusmao said. "I call on the people to remain calm and abide by government rules."


East Timor's prosecutor-general said earlier on Wednesday that he would issue arrest warrants for 18 people believed to be involved in assassination attempts on the president and prime minister.


"We're coming today to a conclusion to issue the warrants," Prosecutor-General Longinhos Monteiro told reporters in Dili.


Asked how strong the evidence was, he said: "99 percent," but added: "I do not want to mention the names of those involved at this stage."


Hundreds of Reinado supporters - some weeping, others shouting "Viva Alfredo" - gathered at his home in Dili on Wednesday as his coffin was brought to the house.


Supporters insisted on opening the coffin several times in order to confirm that the body inside was indeed his.


"Even though you're dead, your spirit will live forever and we will continue your struggle," one man shouted, as UN police provided tight security in the area.


Australian troops continued to arrive in Dili to reinforce international peacekeepers and the 1,600-strong UN police detachment, who are enforcing a 48-hour state of emergency declared in the wake of Monday's attacks.


Ramos-Horta was airlifted to Darwin in northern Australia on Monday for emergency medical treatment for gunshot wounds. Surgeons carried out a further operation on Wednesday.


His chief surgeon, Phil Carson, said the operation revealed the president was likely shot twice, not three times as thought earlier, and that he would need several more operations.


He would have considerable scarring, but would make a full recovery, Carson said.




Despite fears that pro-Reinado members of the ruling coalition might withdraw their support following the death of the rebel leader, sparking the collapse of the government, a member of the coalition said there were no signs of a split.


"The events have made the coalition stronger. The attacks show who had good intentions and who did not," said Aderito Hugo da Costa, a member of parliament in Gusmao's party.


Reinado had led a revolt against the government and was charged with murder after factional violence in 2006. Later that year, he escaped jail with 50 other inmates, embarrassing security forces.


Former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who is secretary-general of the main opposition party Fretilin, called for early elections to settle a political impasse in parliament. Fretilin is the dominant party in parliament, but did not form a government because it lacks an absolute majority.


Ramos-Horta, 58, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for waging a non-violent struggle for independence, split from Fretilin.


East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a UN-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence. Indonesian invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, and many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation. (Reuters)