Subject: AU: Bishop Belo rules out politics

The Australian

E Timor bishop rules out politics

From correspondents in Lisbon, Portugal


EAST Timor's Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, who was awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, has ruled out running for president in 2007.

"I have decided to leave politics to politicians," he said today in comments broadcast on Portuguese state television RTP.

Belo, who stepped down from active duty in November 2002 citing poor health, in February said he would consider a presidential bid if he had strong popular support for the move.

But he said at the time he would only run if the Vatican did not oppose his bid and if Xanana Gusmao, the former guerrilla leader who became East Timor's first president in April 2002, decided to step down after completing his five-year term.

A poll carried out last year in East Timor found that more than 80 per cent of the population would like to see Belo run for president.

He told Portuguese state radio RDP in February he had been encouraged to make a bid for the presidency by a number of political parties in East Timor. He did not name the parties.

Belo was the spiritual leader of East Timor's roughly 800,000 people during Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule in the country, which ended in 1999 after the territory overwhelmingly voted for freedom in a UN-sponsored referendum.

He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Jose Ramos-Horta, a prominent independence activist who is East Timor's foreign minister, for their non-violent resistance to Indonesia's occupation of his homeland.

East Timor spent about 450 years as a neglected Portuguese colony before it was invaded by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975 after Lisbon abruptly withdrew.

With much of its infrastructure destroyed by violence that accompanied its 1999 independence referendum, East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the world.

More than half the adults in the country are illiterate, only one in three houses has electricity and one in five has running drinking water.

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