Subject: E Timor Independence Leader Rules Out Becoming President

Dow Jones Newswires March 28, 2001

E Timor Independence Leader Rules Out Becoming President

DILI, East Timor (AP)--After quitting East Timor's interim legislature in a bitter row over the shape of a new constitution, popular independence leader Xanana Gusmao announced Thursday he wouldn't stand in elections for the nation's first head of state.

"I will not run for president," said Gusmao, who had been widely expected to assume the position. "I believe that if I could do something for this country and these people it was in a different stage of the process, the liberation struggle."

East Timor's temporary U.N. administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said he had accepted Gusmao's resignation, but hoped the former guerrilla leader would change his mind and run for office.

"I do hope he will stand for elections," said de Mello. "I believe he is key to stability in East Timor during the transitional phase and particularly after independence."

In his resignation letter sent to de Mello late Wednesday, Gusmao said the National Council - which consists of 36 members appointed by the United Nations - no longer reflected the views of the East Timorese people.

"He feels he was unfairly challenged by some members of the National Council and I agree with him," said de Mello.

Gusmao quit after an acrimonious debate in the legislature about the new constitution. He appears to have been angered that his own party blocked a proposal that all of East Timor's 600,000 people be canvassed for their views on the new national charter.

Elections are due to be held in August for an 88-seat constituent assembly that will draw up a new constitution. This will be followed by a presidential election and the declaration of full independence, probably in the first half of 2002.

Gusmao led the East Timorese freedom fighters in their long battle against Indonesian occupation. He was captured by government troops in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison, but was released at the time of the 1999 plebiscite on independence from Indonesia.

Many people in the territory believe, however, that the mercurial 54-year-old leader will succumb to popular pressure and head the nation.


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