Subject: AFP: Stone-throwing mars otherwise peaceful holiday in East Timor

Stone-throwing mars otherwise peaceful holiday in East Timor

DILI, Nov 2, 2006 (AFP) - Stone-throwing between two street-roaming youth gangs in the capital of East Timor Thursday marred an otherwise peaceful celebration of a major Catholic holiday in the tiny restive nation.

The early evening incident near Dili's main Santa Cruz cemetery saw dozens of youths hurl rocks at each other but there were no casualties and UN police quickly calmed the situation, an AFP correspondent saw.

More than 200 people were believed killed at the cemetery by Indonesian troops in 1991.

The UN police commissioner Antero Lopes warned this week that All Souls Day had the potential to spark fresh violence between rival gangs after a resurgence in attacks left at least five people dead in the past two weeks.

Local residents said that this year's celebrations were not as festive as previous years because of the concerns but still hundreds of people turned up to leave flowers at graveyards, the traditional way of marking the day.

People in the majority Catholic nation also mark the day by attending mass.

"Some people are afraid to visit graves because of rumours of bombs planted in the graveyards that will blow up during the celebrations," Cristiandion Perreira, a security volunteer from the Dili diocese, told AFP.

All Souls Day has been commemorated since Portuguese missionaries came to East Timor centuries ago and has been a national holiday in the fledgling country since its independence in 2002.

Quiteria da Costa, a member of the national parliament, told AFP he was following a tradition that has been in his family for generations.

"This is a tradition to remember the spirits by placing flowers, lighting candles and praying for their souls for forgiveness," he said.

International troops patrolled near all the graveyards in the city, which remained quiet with most shops closed.

Violence flared in the half-island nation in May between security force factions, as well as street gangs, leaving about 37 people dead over two months and forcing the deployment of 3,200 Australian-led regional forces.

Their numbers have since been reduced to 1,100, bolstered by the presence of about 1,000 UN police.

str-nsh/sb


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