Subject: East Timor President Backs Away from Call to Oust Alkatiri

Agence France-Presse

June 14, 2006

East Timor President Backs Away from Ouster Call

East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao appears to be distancing himself from efforts to oust his political rival, the nation's unpopular prime minister, after weeks of violence and chaos.

In his first speech to parliament since East Timor was hit by street violence widely blamed on Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, Gusmao vowed he would uphold the constitution until his term expires next year.

Alkatiri's opponents began thrashing out a proposal Tuesday they plan to hand to Gusmao recommending that he suspend a section of the four-year-old constitution that would allow him to dissolve parliament.

The group wants the president to appoint a transitional government to rule until elections due next year.

"It is incumbent upon me to be the guardian of the constitution," said Gusmao, the former guerrilla leader who took over as president after independence in 2002 and remains a national hero.

"To be a guardian of the constitution of the republic basically means to safeguard the democratic state based on the rule of law," he said.

"I will continue to fulfil the sacred duty of safeguarding the democratic state, based on the rule of law, until the end of my mandate in May 2007, and I will do so unwaveringly -- and the people can be sure of that," he said.

Gusmao has not yet commented directly on whether he supports the plans of Alkatiri's opponents, who are to meet again in two days, but his speech suggested that he would not go along with them.

East Timor sank into chaos after Alkatiri in March fired 600 soldiers, or nearly half the tiny nation's army, after they deserted complaining of discrimination because they came from the country's west.

At least 21 people died last month as sporadic battles betwen rival soldiers and police descended into gang clashes. The government appealed for foreign help and more than 2,200 combat-ready foreign peacekeepers have since arrived.

In his nearly 30-minute-long speech in Portuguese to the near-full parliament, Gusmao warned that the East Timorese should be prepared to host the peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Dili for longer than they might expect.

"We see that these international forces have been doing an admirable job in gradually reestablishing normalcy day after day, but we must think that this intervention will last longer than what we have imagined for several reasons," he said. In particular, he said, some civilians possessed weapons.

"The big problem is that shots have already been heard almost everywhere in the territory, as if they were drawing attention to this extremely serious situation."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that an assessment mission would soon be dispatched in preparation for "a larger police and military mission" to East Timor.

"It is obvious that the UN will have to go back to Timor-Leste in a much larger form than we are at the moment," he said. "And we will need to send an assessment mission on the ground to determine exactly what needs to be done."

Saying he was "deeply concerned" about developments in the former Portuguese colony, Annan appealed to the Security Council "to stand united in supporting Timor's return to normality."

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

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