Subject: AFP: E Timor may reconsider religious education ban

Last Update: Wednesday, April 27, 2005. 11:00am (AEST)

E Timor may reconsider religious education ban

East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatari says his government may go back on a decision to end compulsory religious classes in state schools, a reversal demanded by protests backed by the nation's powerful Roman Catholic Church over the past week.

Thousands of people have taken part in peaceful rallies in Dili, the capital of the former Portuguese colony, over the past week to demand that Mr Alkatri, a Muslim, and his leftist government resign over the issue.

"The world is made up of changes, a static world does not develop," he told Lisbon-based Radio Renascenca when asked if his Government would change the controversial policy.

"The decision was not mine, although everyone is laying all the blame on me because I am the Prime Minister. The decision was made by the Cabinet so any change would have to be made by the Cabinet," he said in an interview with the Catholic radio station.

The predominantly Roman Catholic country's secular government decreed in February that religion should not be a compulsory subject in government schools, although it would be made available as an option for all students if they wished.

The protest is the latest in a series of conflicts between the Government and the Church, which played a key role in the push for East Timor's independence.

East Timor's Catholic bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva earlier this year expressed opposition to a deal between Timorese and Indonesian leaders to drop trials over the atrocities committed during the country's independence process.

About 96 per cent of East Timor's 800,000 people are Roman Catholic and there are Muslim and Protestant minorities.

East Timor gained independence in May 2002, three years after a referendum supervised by the United Nations brought an end to mainly-Muslim Indonesia's occupation of the territory.

- AFP


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