Subject: AP: East Timor's prime minister says he'd happily resign if nation asks him to

East Timor's prime minister says he'd happily resign if nation asks him to

The Associated Press

Published: September 13, 2006

DILI, East Timor East Timor's prime minister said Wednesday he would happily resign if the people of his troubled nation demanded it, and challenged his critics to take over the helm if they thought they could do a better job.

Jose Ramos-Horta made the comments at a ceremony at which an international police force deployed in May to restore order following months of violence and political instability formally handed over its authority to the United Nations.

He was responding to efforts by renegade military leader Alfredo Reinado, who remains at large after escaping from prison last month, to mobilize a "people's power" revolt seeking his ouster.

"I'd resign in a second," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. "I don't even need to wait for a demonstration. I only took the job because people asked me to."

Asia's newest nation descended into chaos four months ago when fighting between factions of the security forces spilled into gang warfare, looting and arson attacks, leaving at least 30 people dead and sending some 150,000 others fleeing their homes.

Calm largely returned with the installation of a new government headed by Ramos-Horta and the arrival of foreign peacekeepers, although sporadic violence has continued. Six people were injured in a gang clash on Wednesday in the capital.

Tensions raised after Reinado, blamed for some of the worst violence, broke free from prison with nearly 60 others.

The rebel leader remains at large and has repeatedly denounced the new government.

"I'm not happy with all the politics people are playing around me," Ramos-Horta said. "If you (Reinado) think you can do a better job as prime minister, the job is yours. I'm not interested."

The prime minister said his main concern was not Reinado, but how to get the country ­ which remains one of the poorest in the region despite billions of dollars in largely untapped oil and gas reserves ­ back on its feet economically.

Tens of thousands of people forced from their homes during the recent violence are still living in squalid camps, too frightened to return home.

"In spite of the crisis, I've been able to generate a lot of interest in recent days from international investors," Ramos-Horta said, noting that East Timor had reached energy agreements with Thailand and Britain.

It is also working on a deal with Kuwait to help build roads, he said.

"This will help bring prosperity to our country, and that's what we're most concerned about," Ramos-Horta said.

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