Subject: AFP: Timor Leste president elected head of new party

Timor Leste president elected head of new party

Posted: 30 April 2007 2326 hrs

DILI : Timor Leste's President Xanana Gusmao was elected the chairman of a controversial new political party on Monday.

Gusmao was the sole candidate for the chairmanship of the new organisation, the National Congress of Reconstruction of Timor (CNRT), which has already drawn criticism from a rival party.

"With this result, the president and the secretary general for the 2007-2012 period are Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao and Dioniso Babo," party spokesman Virgilio Smith said.

Gusmao, a charismatic onetime guerrilla leader, made no immediate comment.

He is not seeking re-election in the former Portuguese colony's ongoing presidential poll, which is to be decided by a runoff vote on May 9.

But he has said he wants to become prime minister, a more powerful job in Timor Leste than the largely ceremonial role of president, providing the new party does well enough in a parliamentary election due in June.

Timor Leste's ruling Fretilin party, the most powerful political force in the troubled and impoverished country, has already attacked CNRT.

The new party's initials, which are based on the Portuguese version of its name, are the same as a now disbanded pro-independence movement active during Timor Leste's occupation by Indonesia.

Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary General of Fretilin, has said the use of the initials was "cynical" and "opportunistic" and has threatened legal action.

The May 9 presidential runoff pits Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta against Fretilin's candidate Francisco Guterres.

If Ramos-Horta wins and Gusmao achieves his goal of becoming premier, the two associates would end up swapping their current jobs. Gusmao has backed Ramos-Horta's candidacy.

The presidential election is Timor Leste's first since it achieved independence in 2002, after 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and a period of UN stewardship.

Gusmao, feted by many Timorese for taking up arms against occupying Indonesian forces, became head of state in a presidential poll prior to independence. - AFP/de

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