Subject: Lusa: Sharp-tongued, Alkatiri returns home from month abroad

Sharp-tongued, Alkatiri returns home from month abroad

Dili, Dec. 4 (Lusa) - Former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, under investigation on allegations of arming civilians during East Timor's spiral of violence, returned home Monday, after a month's absence abroad, in a feisty political mood.

After a festive welcome from a crowd of supporters at Dili airport, Alkatiri went immediately to his FRETILIN party headquarters, where he belatedly celebrated his 57th birthday and a gave a sharp news conference.

He criticized President Xanana Gusmao's recently launched national dialogue initiative, charged the country lacked a sense of authority, and said he would soon begin drafting campaign strategy with other FRETILIN leaders for upcoming presidential and legislative elections.

The dominant party's secretary-general, Alkatiri, who was forced to resign at the height of the crisis in June by Gusmao, is under investigation for arming civilians in the same case that has already placed his former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, on trial.

The former prime minister, who denies the arms allegations, returned home after a month abroad for medical checkups in Portugal, followed by a visit to Mozambique, where he spent many years in exile during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

At his news conference, Alkatiri criticized the president's list of national dialogue participants as unwieldy, "so big" it was "almost like a football-field rally".

He described continuing flare ups of violence as no longer politically motivated, blaming unrest on a "lack of authority".

"It seems that in this country only those who follow the law are pursued", Alkatiri said without elaboration.

On the political front, he declined to react to a recent series of newspaper articles by the president that squarely blamed him and FRETILIN's leadership for the violence and crisis.

Alkatiri said he would soon meet with his party's leadership to draft "electoral strategy" and to pick FRETILIN's presidential and prime ministerial candidates.

No dates have been set for the general elections, the country's second since gaining independence in 2002 after 24 years of Indonesian domination, but the polls are expected around April or May.

SAS/EL.


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