Subject: ABC: Wracked by anti-government protests

EAST TIMOR : Wracked by anti-government protests 02/12/2002 18:26:00 | Asia Pacific Programs


East Timor's independence celebrations have been marred by a series of anti-government protests, centered on the failure of former resistance fighters to find employment. This week a police station in Baucau has been attacked by an angry mob and 3000 anti-government protestors have rallied in Dili. Adding to the pressure on the government East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao used the official independence day ceremony yesterday to launch a scathing attack on the government.


SAMPAIO: They attacked the office and criticised the fact that former resistance people, former Falantil members were not being given priority in terms of the recruitment. This was quite a serious escalation of the attacks against police. At least one person was killed. He died a few days later in Dili. There were a number of people injured and a number of arrests. Of particular concern for the United Nations, for the Timorese government, the fact that a excessive amount in their perception of warning shots were fired by police. One of them that led to the death of Calisto Soares, a young man of 27 years old. This, for the government, was the more serious threat to the overall instability of the country, but is only one of many events that has occurred right throughout the country. And they are adding to an increase level of fear, an increased level of intimidation that is felt not just by the Timorese, but by the international presence here in East Timor.

FITZGERALD: And Antonio, I understand that yesterday around 3,000 people attended an alternative independence day ceremony to the one officially organised which had the president and the prime minister attending, and foreign dignatories. What was the behind that process? Obviously it was a continuation of the week's events. But was it seen as a challenge to the government or was it people just holding a separate ceremony, a separate group?

SAMPAIO: One, an attempt to celebrate, another one an attempt to ensure that a clear message of dissatisfaction was sent to the prime minister. The day before a communique was issued by the organisers of this alternative event in which they clearly asked the people if we are with the Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, go to the official ceremony. If you are not, come to our ceremony. And 3,000 people did, so in the government's official ceremonies there would have been about 300. Clearly the government's ceremony was much more formal. It was also being transmitted live by the national TV and radio stations, so that might have led to a number of people staying at home. But the message, particularly for the organisers, was: listen, the majority of the people are with us, are dissatisfied with the government, are dissatisfied with what is occurring. The government obviously says that 3,000 people is not a large number, particularly because in that location there has been previous events of much larger scale, including events organised by the ruling party Fretilin.

FITZGERALD: What is the crux of the protesters complaints? What are they really angry about, in a nutshell?

SAMPAIO: The main concern is the increased frustation about the continued difficulties of the average East Timorese. Unemployment is running high. There are no large international investments in the country, the international presence in terms of the United Nations and other international organisations has been severely reduced. This has had an almost immediate impact in the service industry which, particularly in the capital, was employing a number of people. The government has a huge task ahead of itself. It's very young. It's still establishing itself. It hardly has any structure so we find that it cannot answer the calls that it's been getting for support throughout the country. There has been a dry period now that is of quite concern for agriculture, certainly for the majority of the population. All this adds to an increased feeling of frustration which is then used by radical organisations that are also trying to link up dissatisfied young people, dissatisfied former resistance members, dissatisfied former combatants into what could be a complex mix for the government, particularly as it's yet to find and present clear messages and clear policies on how to deal with the complex issue of how do you reintegrate the people that fought the Indonesians for 25 years.

FITZGERALD: And, it's not just the public who've been protesting against the government this week, is it? The East Timorese President Xanana Gusmoa has also launched an unusual attack at the official ceremony. He's timing has been criticised. He's claimed the government is corrupt and that a senior minister should be sacked immediately. What sort of context did he make these comments in and what sort of an impact have they had?

SAMPAIO: For some people, the worst possible forum for the message that Xanana tried to pass. He used the official Independence Day speech to level this criticism at the ruling party Fretilin, at the government, at the parliament, at the political leaders, basically saying that he is yet to see clear measures from the government to now respond these growing instabilities that I spoke a little while ago about. The issue of increased violence, increased tensions among various levels of the society.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

02/12/2002 18:26:00 | Asia Pacific Programs

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