Subject: Lusa: Symbol of Tolerance, PM Alkatiri a Muslim in Christian Land

18-05-2002 12:27:00 GMT Invalid Hora local. Notícia 3671368

East Timor: Symbol of Tolerance, PM Alkatiri a Muslim in Christian Land

The first prime minister of an independent East Timor stands as a symbol of the new nation's commitment to building a tolerant, all- embracing society.

When Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri assumes the reins of independent governance Monday as prime minister, the son of a Muslim family will head a country that is nominally 98 percent Christian.

The "strongman" of East Timor's ruling - and dominant - Fretilin party, Alkatiri has spent almost half of his 52 years in African and European exile, having fled Dili after Indonesia's 1975 invasion.

Often taciturn, Alkatiri is "learning to smile" and impresses many with "statesman-like" qualities, say those who have worked with him since his appointment as chief minister of Dili's second transition cabinet last September.

His reputation as a hands-on manager and hard bargainer can be vouched for by the Australians, with whom he negotiated the Timor Gap oil- and gas-exploration treaty.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, who shared long years of exile with Alkatiri, describes him as a "stubborn" man of "integrity and conviction", but one who knows how to compromise "when necessary".

The father of three childern, Alkatiri is the eldest of 12 brothers and sisters, six of whom died in war.

The collapse of Indonesia's dictatorship and East Timor's 1999 independence plebiscite found him in Portugal, where he was preparing his doctorate in law.

Alkatiri earned his undergraduate degree in Mozambique, where he spent much of his exil in Maputo.

From that experience, colleagues say, he brings many lesson learned in how to deal with social and political wounds following brutal conflict and how to rebuild a nation torn by war.

SAS/ASP -Lusa-

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