|Subject: Lusa: Capital regains eerie calm
as new security ministers take office
East Timor: Capital regains eerie calm as new security ministers take office
Dili, June 3 (Lusa) - Largely deserted of its civilian population, the East Timorese capital experienced its first day of calm Saturday, after 11 straight days of violence, as President Xanana Gusmão swore in new defense and interior ministers.
The most important task, Gusmão said at the swearing in ceremony at Cinzas Palace, was to "stabilize the country and revive the sense of national unity" among the "apparently fragmented" population.
"We must again gain the pride we showed the world" on achieving independence four years ago, the president told the new ministers, Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta, who assumed the defense portfolio, and Alcino Báris, who was promoted from his former post as deputy minister for internal administration in charge of the police.
Immediately after the ceremony, Gusmão gathered his consultative Superior Council of Defense and Security to discuss an "action plan" to implement a series of previously announced 30-day emergency measures, including the disarmament of rival factions.
The government reshuffle and security council meeting came after the president assumed control of the country's security forces Tuesday and ordered Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to sack Defense Minister Roque Rodrigues and Internal Administration Minister Rogério Lobato.
Rodrigues and Lobato have been blamed by many for divisions within the army and police that led to deadly fratricidal clashes in Dili last week, subsequently sparking gang battles, looting and arson in the capital.
In another development, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, whose country has deployed the main peacekeeping force in East Timor, paid a five-hour visit to Dili Saturday for talks with Timor's senior leadership and UN special envoy Ian Martin.
At a news conference, Downer said he believed Dili would need "an international police force" for "some time", adding that Australia's current, mostly military, 1,800-strong force would gradually be replaced by police.
A 120-strong Portuguese paramilitary police contingent was due to arrive Sunday, joining a few hundred Malaysian and Australian police already in place.
In a wide-ranging tour by car of the capital Saturday, Lusa discovered only one new arson attack, a house in flames on the road to Dili airport.
Children were seen playing in streets and some shops reopening for the first time in nearly two weeks as Australian patrols in armored cars moved throughout the city.
UN officials estimate that more than 100,000 of Dili's 120,000 people fled their homes during the wave of violence over the past month, with some 65,000 taking refuge in improvised shelters at churches, schools and diplomatic compounds in and around the capital.
One UN official told Lusa there were reports of increasing tension and some disturbances at the makeshift shelters in disputes over scarce food, water and other supplies.
Hospital officials and other sources told Lusa at least 25 people have been killed, mostly police and soldiers, and more than 120 wounded since the wave of violence erupted in late April in clashes between the army and sacked soldiers protesting alleged regional discrimination in the military.
East Timor: New Interior Minister got Portuguese embassy protection last week
Dili, June 3 (Lusa) - East Timor's new interior minister, Alcino Baris, briefly took refuge in the Portuguese embassy last week during a deadly clash between his police forces and army troops, the official said Saturday.
Baris, who was promoted to the post of internal administration minister Saturday, told Lusa he left the central police headquarters and sought safety at the Portuguese embassy on May 25 during the bloody army siege of the police HQ that left 10 dead and 27 wounded.
"There was much shooting" between soldiers and police that day and "I withdrew to the Portuguese embassy for a few hours where I asked for protection", Baris said.
"I wanted protection, but later, when the situation calmed, I left", he said, adding he never considered asking for political asylum.
At the time, Baris was the deputy interior minister.
Asked for comment, a Portuguese embassy official said he could "neither confirm nor deny" Baris' account as it was "a very delicate affair".
Amid chaos, defiant prime minister of East Timor refuses to quit
June 3, 2006 Associated Press
DILI, East Timor_The man at the center of East Timor's crisis is Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a savvy but widely disliked negotiator who has resisted calls for his ouster despite the descent of his young nation's capital into anarchy.
Sporadic clashes last month between soldiers Alkatiri fired and government troops have spiraled into open street warfare between gangs loosely allied with either side. The armed forces are in disarray _ splintered by factional fighting _ and foreign peacekeepers patrol the streets of the capital.
Alkatiri, who spent Indonesia's 24-year occupation of his homeland in exile in Africa, is now trying to salvage his government, and hold onto his seat in power.
Many East Timorese say Alkatiri's leadership style is authoritarian _ a charge he strongly denies _ and has triggered some of the street violence.
"The government tries to tell people that they are going to solve the problem, but nothing is happening," said Flory Freire, who lost his job when his employer, an Australian aid project, shut down operations because Dili was unsafe.
Often criticized as aloof and abrasive, Alkatiri is the embattled symbol of a government in virtual paralysis despite a U.N. nation-building exercise that ended in 2002. His image contrasts with that of President Xanana Gusmao, an adored, former rebel chief and independence hero who had stayed out of the bruising grind of daily politics.
The two men have engaged in hard negotiations in recent days, finally reaching a compromise aimed at defusing the crisis. Two of Alkatiri's allies, the interior and defense ministers, quit in a Cabinet reshuffle.
Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, who has worked closely with Gusmao and has suggested recently that Alkatiri resign, was sworn in Saturday as defense minister.
A shrewd operator, Alkatiri lacks the panache and charisma of Gusmao, whose public appearances can electrify crowds.
"He's always against anyone who disagrees with him," said Ananias Villanova, a protester outside government offices in Dili on Friday. "He must go or we will force him to go."
Alkatiri, 56, has a strong political base as head of the ruling Fretilin party.
He said he has no plans to step down ahead of elections next year, and that shadowy forces launched the violence in a bid to topple the government.
"The aim is really to avoid elections in 2007 with Mari Alkatiri in power because they know clearly that Fretilin will win," he told Indonesia's Metro TV.
Among those calling for his ouster is Alfredo Reinado, commander of 600 soldiers who were dismissed after complaining about discrimination in the 1,400-member military. Reinado, whose forces fought loyalists soldiers and are now camped in the hills near Dili, said Alkatiri must take the blame for the shooting of civilians by security forces during recent chaos.
Commentators say the government's decision to fire a large segment of the military without giving further consideration to its grievances was rash.
The prime minister is a Muslim of Yemeni origin, an anomaly in a country whose population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Last year, he angered church leaders by deciding to make religious education optional instead of compulsory in schools. Separately, his support for a criminal defamation law raised concerns about threats to press freedom.
Alkatiri left East Timor in 1970, just a few years before Portugal abandoned its Southeast Asian colony. He lived in Angola and Mozambique, studying to become a chartered surveyor and lawyer.
Alkatiri was a founder of Fretilin, whose Portuguese acronym means Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor. The early influence of Marxism on the party made Alkatiri a figure of suspicion in Western circles. Last year, Alkatiri met Fidel Castro in Cuba.
During the Indonesian occupation, Alkatiri campaigned for the separatist cause at the United Nations with Ramos Horta, who later won a Nobel Peace Prize and is now foreign minister. The current crisis has exposed tensions between the two men.
Alkatiri also has problematic ties with Australia, which last sent peacekeepers to East Timor in 1999 after pro-Indonesia militias devastated the territory following a vote for self-rule.
In recent years, Alkatiri engaged in protracted talks with Australia over territorial rights to oil and gas reserves in the sea between the two countries. In the current crisis, Australian Prime Minister John Howard raised questions about the quality of governance in East Timor, an apparent slap at Alkatiri.
The prime minister refused to take loans from the World Bank, fearing they could lead to the kind of debilitating debt and dependence suffered by other poor nations, especially in Africa.