Subject: Security watches over E Timor's sixth birthday


Security watches over E Timor's sixth birthday

Posted 5 hours 11 minutes ago

East Timorese leaders have gathered under tight security for a ceremony to celebrate six years of independence and mourn the country's long and bloody struggle for liberation.

The hacienda-style government palace on Dili's waterfront was bedecked with international flags - including those of former occupiers Indonesia and Portugal - as the country's red-and-black flag was raised under a baking sun.

President Jose Ramos-Horta, who reviewed a guard of honour from the back of a jeep, called for peace and unity in Asia's troubled newest state as foreign stabilisation force snipers watched from the palace roof.

"On this day of independence we have to maintain peace in our nation, fight poverty and protect national unity. This is an obligation of all the people," he said in a speech.

The celebrations come just three months after Dr Ramos-Horta was shot and wounded in a February 11 rebel attack which also targeted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

The rebels responsible for the attack surrendered last month but fears of a return to instability are overshadowing the Independence Day cheer.

Security remains tight around the country's leaders, and international troops from a stabilisation force which entered the country in the wake of factional fighting two years ago closely watched the ceremony.

"What happened on February 11 showed that state institutions in our nation are still fragile. But this ceremony also shows that over the past six years we have achieved a lot," the president said.

Children sang a hymn and the leaders of the mainly Catholic country honoured more than 1,500 veterans of the independence struggle against Indonesia as part of the festivities.

Seeds of instability

East Timor finally gained formal independence from Indonesia in 2002.

But the nation was flung into instability again by the mass desertion of 600 soldiers in 2006, which triggered street violence between rival factions that killed at least 37.

That rebellion came to an end after the death of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado in the attack on Dr Ramos-Horta's house in February and the surrender of his followers last month.

But analysts say the seeds of further instability remain, and political tensions were on show even as the country's leaders assembled on the dias for the independence speeches.

Mr Gusmao conspicuously refused to shake the hand of opposition leader and ex-prime minister Mari Alkatiri, of the Fretilin party.

A new government headed by Mr Gusmao took office in August last year amid protest from Mr Alkatiri's party, which won the highest number of votes in June polls but not the majority required to govern.

Mr Gusmao's party cobbled together a coalition commanding 37 seats in the 65-seat parliament, but Fretilin insisted it should have been invited to rule, sparking sporadic violence in the young nation.

Ado Amaral, a 45-year-old farmer who came down from the hills outside Dili to witness the festivities, said he was glad the event passed without trouble.

"I'm very happy because everything is going well. There's no provocation between people, no disturbances," he told AFP.

"It's better than other years. I find it hard to think about 2006 but now I see that everything is going well."


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