June 26, 2006

East Timor leaders meet to choose new PM

By David Fox

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor's leaders were meeting on
Tuesday to discuss who would be the next prime minister after
the resignation of Mari Alkatiri appeared to cool political
tempers and raise hopes for an end to over two months of

The State Council, an appointed body that advises the
president, met as thousands of Timorese who have camped out in
the capital staging daily protests began drifting back to their

The protests peaked last week after damaging revelations in
an Australian TV documentary linked Alkatiri to a plot to arm a
civilian militia.

He 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 died.

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

Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party -- which holds 55 of the
88 seats in parliament -- is believed to have nominated a new
premier, who must be asked to form the next government by
President Xanana Gusmao after the state council meeting.

Names being touted include the current deputy premier, Ana
Pessoa, labor minister Arsenio Bano and health minister Rui
Maria de Arauzo.

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.

Whoever is named, few expect major changes in policy -
particularly as the state budget is due to be presented on

Ramos-Horta said on Monay that the budget -- although just
a modest $415 million -- will include relatively big spending
on social infrastructure projects that could help heal the
wounds caused by the recent violence.

The new government will also have to prepare for a
scheduled election before May next year.