Subject: LUSA: Gusmão meets Catholic demonstrators, predicts solution to crisis

East Timor: Gusmão meets Catholic demonstrators, predicts solution to crisis

Dili, April 28 (Lusa) - President Xanana Gusmão visited hundreds of Catholic demonstrators demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri Thursday, appealing for moderation and forecasting that the 10-day-old crisis threatening East Timor's government could be approaching an end.

Gusmão, making his first appearance before the 10-day-old demonstration, said there were "signs about the possibility of finding a solution" for the power struggle pitting the influential Catholic Church against Alkatiri's cabinet.

The president's remarks to the crowd of some 2,000 protesters outside Dili's government headquarters were interspersed by chants of "Down with Alkatiri" from the demonstrators.

Gusmão later told journalists he might return to the round-the- clock demonstration at an unspecified date with the country's two bishops to ask the protesters to return to their homes.

Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta accompanied the president, who was joyfully welcomed by the crowd, on his visit to the protesters.

Earlier Thursday, Alkatiri met with Gusmão to discuss the crisis triggered by the government's decision to demote religion classes in public schools to the status of an optional subject.

The prime minister, whose resignation has been the main demand of the church-organized protests, told journalists he was upbeat about a consensual solution.

Confirming he had held unannounced talks with Bishops Alberto Ricardo da Silva and Basílio do Nascimento Wednesday, Alkatiri described the encounter as "dialogue" because "there are no negotiations among friends".

"We deeply discussed some issues and reached the conclusion that all the conditions exist to overcome all the existing problems", he added.

A government source, asking to remain unidentified, told Lusa the cabinet was ready to suspend its trial program at 32 schools to offer religion classes as an optional subject.

The curriculum change sparked a virulent war of words between the church and the government two months ago, gradually escalating to Catholic demands for the resignation of Alkatiri, the son of a Muslim family in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

EL/SAS.

Lusa


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