Subject: East Timor's Parliament Meets On Budget, Ex-PM

Associated Press July 3, 2006

East Timor's Parliament Meets On Budget, Ex-PM

DILI, East Timor (AP)--East Timor's parliament met Monday for the first time in weeks to discuss a budget and whether to waive immunity for ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who faces allegations of forming a hit squad to terrorize his opponents.

Alkatiri briefly attended the session as a lawmaker - a position he reassumed after resigning as prime minister under mounting pressure from street protesters and government leaders.

Jose Ramos-Horta, the country's Nobel prize-winning foreign minister, said Monday a new prime minister would likely be named later this week.

The parliamentary session highlighted the bizarre nature of politics in East Timor since it was thrown into crisis following Alkatiri's dismissal of 600 soldiers who battled loyalist troops in the capital less than two months ago.

The violence - which spilled over into gang warfare and left at least 30 people dead - was the worst to hit the tiny nation since it voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Though East Timor does not have a functioning government, its 88 parliamentarians were being asked to approve laws paving the way for the next national elections and - with the fiscal year already over - the 2006-2007 budget. They last met nearly a month ago.

At present, the administration is running on monthly extensions of last year's $142-million budget. Some U.N. agencies are temporarily helping cover the cost of relief work in violence-scarred Dili, where more than 150,000 people fled their homes.

Another key issue likely to be raised was Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro's request to waive Alkatiri's immunity, said Harold Muso, secretary to House Speaker Francisco Guterres.

Alkatiri stepped down as prime minister one week ago amid allegations that he knew weapons were being handed to militias hunting his opponents during the unrest, but he refused to appear for questioning Friday saying he had parliamentary immunity.

Immunity can be waived for any member charged with crimes punishable by more than two years in jail, but it remained unclear if Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party, which holds 55 of 88 seats, would agree to Montiero's request.

Alkatiri, who is also the energy minister, left the parliament session soon after it began Monday to attend a meeting with Ramos-Horta and other members of the outgoing Cabinet.

They were discussing the needs of those displaced by the recent violence - including electricity, water supplies and other humanitarian issues in crowded tent camps dotting the capital - and the overall functioning of the administration.

Ramos-Horta told reporters ahead of those talks that President Xanana Gusmao, who had called on Alkatiri to step down, was having consultations with all the political parties to discuss candidates for the prime ministerial post.

"I am optimistic that sometime this week they will agree on a new prime minister," he said.

Alkatiri has denied the hit squad allegations, but they gained credibility last month when former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, deputy leader in Fretilin and a key political ally, was indicted in the case.

He said he was acting on Alkatiri's orders.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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