Subject: Lusa: Govt-Church talks focused on 'details', no date yet for agreement

East Timor: Govt-Church talks focused on 'details', no date yet for agreement

Dili, May 6 (Lusa) - East Timorese government and Catholic Church negotiators said Friday they were still working on a compromise solution for their angry policy confrontation and still had no date to sign a planned "joint declaration" to end nearly three weeks of street demonstrations.

Bishop Basílio do Nascimento of Baucau, speaking to Lusa after another round of bilateral talks, said "difficulties in finding terms, of looking in the same direction" remained, but that the problems were "details that can be overcome".

Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta, the bishop's counterpart in the negotiations, was equally hopeful.

The delay in reaching a solution, initially expected on Thursday, was "natural", he told Lusa, because "fundamental questions" were at stake.

"The important thing is that dialogue continues and there are possibilities of finding a conclusive and final point", Ramos Horta said, adding that "there is good faith and determination on both sides".

Neither do Nascimento, one of East Timor's two Catholic bishops, nor Ramos Horta would specify a date for signing a "joint declaration", with the foreign minister saying there were still "some hours of work" ahead.

Details of the negotiations have not been made public.

However, sources on both sides of the months-old showdown that erupted into unauthorized but peaceful, non-stop demonstrations in Dili on April 19 said they centered on Catholic concerns over the status of religious instruction in public schools and legislation on abortion and prostitution.

Several thousand demonstrators continue to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, the son of a Muslim minority family in the overwhelmingly Catholic country, but the church hierarchy has dropped that initial demand.

President Xanana Gusmão, who first mediated the government- church talks, Alkatiri and other officials waited in vain for hours Thursday for the two bishops to appear at the president's office to sign the joint declaration.

Officials later said the failed ceremony had been set prematurely due to a "breakdown in communications" with the prelates, do Nascimento and Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili.



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