Subject: RT: East Timor calm after deadly riots

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

East Timor calm after deadly riots

By Lirio Da Fonseca

DILI, Dec. 5 (Reuters) - East Timor's capital was calm on Thursday after riots that shook the city the previous day, but many businesses were closed and there was heavier than normal presence of police and U.N. peacekeeping force, witnesses said.

Clashes on Wednesday between police and protesters, many of them students, caused casualties on both sides. Several buildings, including the home of the prime minister, were burned or damaged.

"The government is going to launch a thorough investigation" of the riots and their causes, East Timor Foreign Affairs official Caroline O'Brien told Reuters.

Wednesday's clashes were the most serious yet for Asia's newest nation and a blow to efforts to establish a peaceful democracy after East Timor won independence from Indonesia in a bloody 1999 U.N.-based vote.

Some witnesses said between three and five people, mostly protesters, were killed but U.N. and government authorities put the official death toll at one.

"If there were more we'll find out as the investigation unfolds but at this stage all we know is that there is one person killed as a result of the riots," O'Brien said.

Local newspaper Surat Timor Leste said the death toll was three, while a public hospital reported two killed.

O'Brein said five policemen and a parliamentarian had been injured but had no figures on injuries among the protesters.

The family of a man who died on Wednesday wanted to bring his body to the main government building in Dili on Thursday "so obviously we're stepping up security", O'Brien said. It wasn't known whether his death related to the riots, she said.

"But everything is very peaceful. People are going about their jobs. They are driving to work. They're taking their kids to school," she added.

Journalist Austin Mega told Reuters the situation was quiet, but said about 100 Indonesians had gone to their embassy to register themselves in case of evacuation.

John Rouw, an Australian worker for a private legal organisation in Dili, said things looked calm, although virtually "all shops are closed. There is probably a slightly heavier than usual peacekeeping force presence, police presence out in the streets and...in front of embassies."

Some roads were also cordoned off, he said, noting that Japanese peacekeepers had blocked him from taking his normal route to work. In general, however, "people seem to be getting around...walking around, chatting, talking".

On Wednesday night the streets had been empty except for U.N. peacekeepers and East Timor security officials on patrol, protecting embassies and guarding shops to stop looting.

The Australian government said some of its nationals in East Timor had sheltered at its embassy overnight.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose own house was burned down in the violence, had called for calm and said: "Today's events mark a very sad note during our country's first days of independence."

The violence began when around 500 students clashed with police during a demonstration sparked by the arrest of a student on Tuesday. Anger erupted after police shot one of the protesting students, a witness said, prompting a wave of looting and arson.

O'Brien said, however, that what began as a peaceful student protest was disrupted when it was "joined by another group which started throwing stones".

"The students said that that second group also had handguns and (the students) were scared so they left, and that second group were the ones who caused the damage apparently."

Packs of young men, laughing and shouting, smashed their way into one office building and dragged out furniture and computers, which they torched on the street as a U.N. helicopter hovered overhead.

The United Nations ran East Timor for almost three years after the territory voted to break from 24 years of often harsh Indonesian rule and has continued to play an administrative and security role since official independence earlier this year.

By evening, heavy smoke was billowing above at least half a dozen charred stores and several other buildings had been burned or vandalised.

"My impression of what happened here today is that it was due to a lot of things that have been building up over the past month but mostly, people are not happy with the government. It seems the government has promised too much and hasn't delivered," resident Wayne Lovell said on Wednesday.

But O'Brien said: "It wasn't an act of the people wanting to overthrow the government or something like that. These were thugs that were committing criminal acts."

East Timor is still struggling to get on its feet after the 1999 independence vote that triggered a bloody backlash by pro-Jakarta militia gangs, backed by elements of the Indonesian military. The United Nations estimates more than 1,000 people were killed.

O'Brien said the Timorese people have "had enough of violence and they deserve peace...but there is a fear amongst the community here that perhaps Timor will be forgotten because of this."


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