June 27, 2006

Thousands gather to support ousted East Timor leader

By David Fox

DILI (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of ousted East
Timor prime minister Mari Alkatiri prepared to march on the
capital on Tuesday, a day after the premier resigned following
a week of protests against his rule.

Hopes for an end to over two months of violence fizzled out
as news of the gathering by Fretilin party supporters spread.

The State Council, an appointed panel which advises
President Xanana Gusmao, met earlier to discuss who would
replace Alkatiri, but the meeting ended without apparent

Fretilin holds 55 of parliament's 88 seats and, according
to the constitution, has the right to nominate the next prime
minister. However, Gusmao is widely believed to be seeking a
non-partisan unity candidate.

In a show of strength, Fretilin rallied thousands of
supporters around 16 km (10 miles) east of the capital to march
on Dili. Alkatiri addressed the crowd, but few could hear him
as his megaphone kept breaking off.

They cheered wildly anyway, chanting "Viva Fretilin" and
"Viva Alkatiri."

"What is going on is going on by undemocratic means and is
against the constitution," Alkatiri told the crowd. "We must
show we are still the party of strength."

He had arrived in the official prime minister's car,
surrounded by bodyguards.

It was Alkatiri's first public appearance in weeks
following widespread protests which peaked after damaging
revelations in an Australian TV documentary linked him to a
plot to arm a civilian militia.


Alkatiri had been under fire anyway for more than two
months for mishandling a dispute in the army that spiraled into
widespread looting and violence in which at least 20 people

The violence only ended with the arrival of a 2,500-strong
Australian-led intervention force.

But as night fell in the capital, hundreds of anti-Alkatiri
protesters were still camped outside the main government
building and scores more packed into trucks and buses, cruising
the streets, still celebrating his resignation.

Australian troops were seen reinforcing checkpoints and
blockades on the road the Fretilin convoy would travel.
Officers have previously said they would allow demonstrations
by all parties as long as they remained peaceful.

Diplomats believe Fretilin's choice for prime minister was
likely to be either the current deputy premier, Ana Pessoa,
Labor Minister Arsenio Bano or Health Minister Rui Maria de

A non-Fretilin unity candidate could be Foreign Minister
Jose Ramos-Horta, although he has said he would only do the job
as a last resort.

East Timor was a Portuguese colony for centuries before a
revolution in Lisbon in 1975 gave the territory a brief taste
of independence. Indonesian troops invaded a few days later and
Jakarta annexed East Timor in 1976.

After a 1999 vote for independence marked by violence
blamed largely on pro-Jakarta militia with ties to the
Indonesian army, an international peacekeeping force moved into
the territory, ushering in a transitional period of U.N.
administration before East Timor became a fully-fledged nation
in 2002.