Subject: LUSA: Alkatiri supporters rally in capital under int'l security clampdown

29-06-2006 21:16:00. Fonte LUSA. Notícia SIR-8129217 Temas:

East Timor: Alkatiri supporters rally in capital under int'l security clampdown

Dili, June 29 (Lusa) - Thousands of backers of East Timor's dominant FRETILIN party, escorted by international peacekeepers, paraded through the capital Thursday in a show of support for ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Demonstration organizers said they would deliver a petition to President Xanana Gusmão Friday, demanding he rescind Alkatiri's resignation, and that they planned to stay in Dili through Saturday.

Presidential spokesman Ágio Pereira confirmed to Lusa that the petition would be received at the presidential palace Friday.

Gusmão continued urgent meetings Thursday with political leaders on the formation of a new government after forcing Alkatiri to resign Monday as a step to ending two months of violence and political strife.

In a statement Wednesday, the president said he was seeking to form a new government with "urgency" but that the crisis would only be "completely overcome" through elections.

Escorted by Australian and Portuguese peacekeepers, backed by armored cars, the pro-FRETILIN demonstrators entered Dili in a 200- vehicle convoy after being checked for weapons and explosives on the city's outskirts.

Peacekeepers estimated the throng at about 4,000, but FRETILIN's deputy secretary-general, José Reis, put the number of demonstrators at between 10,000 and 15,000.

An Australian Black Hawk helicopter hovered low overhead the prearranged route of the demonstration that was scheduled to include a rally outside the downtown government headquarters.

Party sources told Lusa the rally, initially planned for Thursday, had been postponed to Friday and could be addressed by Alkatiri and Parliament Speaker Francisco Guterres, FRETILIN's chairman.

Alkatiri's supporters converged on the capital after Gusmão ordered several thousand anti-FRETILIN demonstrators, who had filled the city for a week, to leave Wednesday to avoid a flare-up of violence that has cost 37 lives and displaced some 150,000 from their homes since late April.

On leaving Dili, those demonstrators said they were giving Gusmão 30 days to name a caretaker cabinet, dissolve parliament, where the ruling party holds 55 of 88 seats, and call early elections.

Regularly scheduled polls are slated for early next year.

Witnesses told Lusa they heard brief gunfire near a refugee camp Thursday where rival bands of youths clashed with rocks and some tried to torch nearby houses.

Three people were detained in the incident, authorities said.

FRETILIN officials, who claimed Wednesday the party had mobilized 30,000 supporters to march on Dili, said the much smaller demonstration was due to logistical problems in supplying their supporters who began massing outside the capital Tuesday.

FRETILIN's show of force came one day before Alkatiri had been due to face questioning on allegations he organized a hit team to eliminate opponents during the spiral of violence that split the country's security forces and ignited communal gang rampages.

But Alkatiri said Thursday that he had asked Dili's state prosecution service to postpone this hearing as his lawyer had not yet arrived in Timor, adding that his request was granted.

The "death squad" allegations, vehemently denied by Alkatiri, led to the house arrest to await trial last week of former Interior Minister Rogério Lobato, who confessed to investigators, a judicial source told Lusa.

Alkatiri has repeatedly denied the allegations but said he would cooperate with the investigation.

The country's violent crisis emerged in February when some 600 soldiers, sacked from the army the following month, began protests over alleged regional discrimination in the 1,500-strong military.

A bloody army crackdown against the disgruntled soldiers in late April further tore the military and police force, leading to clashes between rival security force factions in the capital and triggering weeks of communal gang arson and looting rampages.

The arrival of a four-nation, mainly Australian, peacekeeping force of nearly 3,000 in late May quelled the violence that UN officials say killed 37 people, injured more than 100, and displaced nearly 150,000 from their homes.

SAS/EL.

Lusa

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