Subject: LUSA: President marks1st independence anniversary with anti-poverty call

20-05-2003 13:04:00. Notícia nº SIR-5042242 Temas: new destaque1 East Timor: President marks1st independence anniversary with anti-poverty call

Dili, May 20 (Lusa) - Setting aside economic hardship for a day, the East Timorese marked the first anniversary of their hard-won independence Tuesday with worship services, song, dragon dances and parades.

Some 10,000 people gathered before Dili's Government Palace for the main celebration, observing a moment of silence for the "martyrs" who fell in 24 years of struggele against Indonesian occupation, and hearing President Xanana Gusmão set the fight against poverty as the country's "first priority".

While festive, the ceremonies fell far short of the euphoria and international attention that marked independence after 2-1/2 years of UN administration on May 20, 2002.

In contrast to the host of foreign dignitaries that flocked to Dili one year ago, only Portugal, East Timor's former colonial ruler, was represented by a senior official, José Arantes, the adjutant state secretary to Prime Minister José Manuel Durão Barroso.

Gusmão, a former leader of the guerrilla resistance to Jakarta's brutal rule, said sporadic incidents of post-independence violence were not the country's "barometer".

"The situation in East Timor is stable", the president told the crowd in Dili, while acknowledging its 800,000 people continued to face "enormous economic difficulties".

Combating high unemployment and poverty, Gusmão said, should be the government's "number one priority, if we want sure advances in the social and political field, and, above all, at the level of the country's stability".

Describing his peoples as "magnificent", the president said he was convinced they could perform "another miracle" in developing the country, even grander than their achievement of independence.

The only person to address Dili celebrations, Gusmão also expressed confidence that "closer synergies of cooperation" would mark relations between the government and the United Nation's UNMISET mission during its final year in East Timor.

The UN Security Council, acting on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation in April, approved Monday a one-year extention of UNMISET's civil, police and peacekeeping mandate.

Lisbon's envoy to the celebrations, Arantes, told reporters his presence in Dili "underlines the ties" between the Portuguese and the Timorese and Portugal's commitment to continue aiding in the fledgling country's reconstruction.

Converging with the 1999 UN-sponsored plebiscite that put East Timor on the road to independence, withdrawing Indonesian troops and proxy militias ravaged the territory.

Among other atrocities, they killed some 1,500 people, forced about 250,000 to flee to Indonesian West Timor, and destroyed roughly three-quarters of the territory's infrastructures.

In an interview with Lusa Tuesday, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who has often been at odds with the president, gave an upbeat assessment of accomplishments during the first year of independence.

Rejecting what he called the "black image" projected abroad by some, Alkatiri pointed to government success in many fields.

Among other achievements, he underlined that 650 of 900 destroyed schools had been rebuilt, 80 percent of destroyed health centers rehabilitated, and 80 percent of destroyed irrigation systems recouped.


Copyright © 2001 Agência Lusa Todos os direitos reservados

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