Subject: ABC: E Timorese rally against Aust 'interference'

Also ABC Asia Pacific: Australian PM to make flying visit

ABC News

E Timorese rally against Aust 'interference'

Protesters in East Timor have staged a demonstration against Prime Minister John Howard as he left Dili, accusing Australia of interfering in East Timor's political affairs.

Mr Howard flew to East Timor this morning to meet Australian troops in Dili and hold talks with political leaders, including President Jose Ramos Horta, regarding the country's security and Australia's troop presence.

Mr Howard also had lunch with several hundred soldiers at one of three Australian defence bases.

The visit coincided with renewed uncertainty over East Timor's future, with still no clear winner from last month's parliamentary elections.

Dr Ramos Horta asked Australia to keep troops in the country until the end of next year to help strengthen the country's fragile security and stability.

Mr Howard made no promises, but says Australia will not turn its back on East Timor.

"It cannot be assumed that we will stay indefinitely," he said.

"That's not the purpose of our involvement. The purpose of our involvement is to stabilise the situation.

"When it's fully stabilised and we are satisfied that it will remain stable is the time to contemplate withdrawal."

Fretilin party protesters this afternoon waved anti-Australian banners.

But before he left, Mr Howard denied Australia was interfering in East Timor's politics.

"We respect the sovereignty of East Timor," he said.

"We do not intend to abuse in any way our position by taking it upon ourselves to give public advice to the leadership of this country as to how to handle the democratic process."

The Prime Minister also met United Nations' leaders in Dili, and the interim foreign minister.


ABC Radio News

Asia Pacific

EAST TIMOR: Australian PM to make flying visit - 26/07/2007

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is due to make a flying visit to East Timor on Thursday. He will meet President Jose Ramos-Horta and former president Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the new CNRT political party. Mr Howard's visit comes at a time of uncertainty for East Timor, where almost a month after national elections, the main rival parties have yet to agree on a new government.

Presenter - Alexandra Kirk

Speaker - Australian Prime Minister John Howard; former diplomat Jim Dunn

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KIRK: John Howard's spending his 68th birthday in East Timor. It's almost a year to the day since his last visit when he flew to thank Australian troops and police and meet the country's new Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

Now Dr Ramos-Horta is the new President. But there's still no government. His attempts to convince rival parties to form a national unity government have so far failed, amid fears political tensions could boil over and see the country descend into violence again.

HOWARD: The purpose of going to East Timor is to meet the newly elected President, I mean I've met him before but meet him in his new position. He's well known to me and I think it's important, particularly as I'm here in Western Australia that I take the opportunity of a quick visit to East Timor both to see him and also Xanana Gusmao, and also of course to take the opportunity of speaking to and thanking the Australian forces who are still there and still doing a terrific job.

KIRK: Former diplomat, Jim Dunn, who spent some time in East Timor advising the United Nations and the East Timorese Government, says Mr Howard will be welcomed by many Timorese.

DUNN: There's also the political advantage because after all this is one of his greatest achievements as he himself sees his own record. And this is an election year and I don't think it would hurt drawing the electorate's attention to that achievement. But at the same time of course it's an interesting time to be in Timor.

KIRK: But Mr Dunn says East Timor's government and leaders have been looking for other friends.

DUNN: To counter the, you might say the sometimes heavy embrace of Australia. East Timor has now developed close relations, quite profitable aid relations with the European Union, with China which is building the presidential palace and the foreign ministry, with South Korea and Japan as well as of course the United States and other countries.

KIRK: East Timor became a republic five years ago after a United Nations backed independence vote.

Under the constitution, Dr Ramos-Horta has the final say on the formation of the new government. The Fretilin Party won the most votes in the June elections, but not a majority. Fretilin leaders have been meeting with an alliance of rival parties headed by the new party of independence hero and former president Xanana Gusmao.

The two sides are bitterly divided and reportedly split over who should take the top job of Prime Minister. They have just a few days to decide.

Jim Dunn says any move to keep Fretilin out of government will risk continuing the violence that's scarred East Timor. He says he's advised the leaders to form a government of national unity for two years, and to break the deadlock he suggests perhaps neither of the two sparring partners -- Mari Alkatiri nor Xanana Gusmao -- become Prime Minister.

DUNN: So the aim is to try and get some leader who is more generally acceptable, and I think that is a stumbling block. And lately Xanana could step aside, I mean he could become maybe head of the national assembly or take some other position which reflects the wide respect for him and gives him an opportunity to keep up that role he maintained last year, giving the people a kind of moral leadership.

KIRK: About 1,100 Australian troops remain deployed in East Timor. Operation Astute is there to restore peace and stability.

The Australian Government is refusing to say how long they're likely to stay, though the Army chief foreshadowed last month troop numbers could be cut by the end of the year as the United Nations consolidates its security presence after the elections.

The East Timor specialist Jim Dunn says those involved in the Timorese military strike, which led to violence and a near breakdown of law and order, no longer pose any threat. He thinks Australian soldiers have done an excellent job, but that it's now time for a police presence, with riot squads to deal with more serious outbreaks, rather than a military force.

DUNN: Timorese people really like the Australians, they like their presence, but the fact of course that they're always armed and they don't mix, they're not allowed to fraternise I think really it limits the benefit of the military presence from both their point of view and ours.

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