|Subject: Lusa: FRETILIN sticks by PM
Alkatiri, wants 'dialogue' with President
Also 2nd minister resigns in opposition to PM Alkatiri
East Timor: FRETILIN sticks by PM Alkatiri, wants 'dialogue' with President
Dili, June 25 (Lusa) - East Timor's ruling party, rejecting President Xanana Gusmão's him-or-me demand Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resign, rallied around its chief Sunday and appealed to both leaders to "dialogue" for a solution to the country's months-long crisis of violence and political turmoil.
Chairman Francisco Guterres, reporting on a seven-hour FRETILIN leadership meeting on the president's ultimatum, told a news conference the party wanted both Gusmão and Alkatiri to remain at their posts and would begin "contacts for dialogue with the President of the Republic".
Reacting to FRETILIN's announcement, Gusmão's cabinet chief, Ágio Pereira, told Lusa the president's position remained unchanged since his address to the country Friday, threatening to resign if Alkatiri didn't step down, assuming responsibility for the weeks of violence that led to the deployment of international peacekeepers.
Foreign and Defense Minister José Ramos Horta, a political independent close to Gusmão, announced he was resigning from cabinet in a move that coincided with word of the stance adopted by FRETILIN's Central Committee.
A Ramos Horta aide told Lusa the key minister would continue to serve until a new government was formed.
The ruling party's decision to stand behind Alkatiri caught many by surprise.
Alkatiri told Lusa Saturday he was willing to step aside, as demanded by the president, and be replaced to avoid an "eventual bloodbath", but that his fate depended on the party leadership.
The cabinet's No. 2 figure, Minister of State Administration Ana Pessoa, had been widely touted as a favorite to replace the prime minister, but anti-government demonstrators, who blocked the FRETILIN meeting from making place as scheduled Saturday, said Pessoa was no better than Alkatiri.
The seven-hour Central Committee meeting took place behind closed doors at the party's national Dili headquarters, which was guarded by Portuguese paramilitary police backed by armored cars.
In contrast to Saturday, when some 2,000 anti-Alkatiri protesters kept the FRETILIN leadership from meeting, no demonstrators appeared close to the party headquarters Sunday.
Ahead of the meeting, officers of the predominantly Australian 2,700-strong international peacekeeping force said hundreds of demonstrators were been screened on Dili's outskirts before being let into the city but would be kept away from FRETILIN's HQ.
Despite the political tension, coming on the heels of weeks of violence, the city was calm.
Catholic Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva told Sunday worshippers it was time for "reconciliation" and to "forget about burning and looting".
In comments to Lusa Saturday, Alkatiri said he was willing to be replaced, but that his fate and that of his government depended on how the party leadership decided to respond to widely popular Gusmão's ultimatum, first issued Wednesday, that either the prime minister step down or he would resign as president.
However, in another interview Saturday, Alkatiri suggested that other solutions for the crisis might still be on the table.
He told Lisbon newspaper Diário de Notícias that the former presidents of Portugal and Mozambique, Jorge Sampaio and Joaquim Chissano, could possibly mediate a compromise in tandem with special UN envoy Ian Martin, who is scheduled to arrive in Dili Monday.
Since reaffirming his ultimatum last week, Gusmão has not spoken publicly on the crisis except to say Saturday that he was giving FRETILIN "some more time" to take a decision due to the postponement of the party's leadership meeting.
The president has justified his demand Alkatiri depart, in part, because of allegations, vehemently denied by the prime minister, that he was involved in distributing weapons to civilians during the recent turmoil.
A Dili court placed former Interior Minister Rogério Lobato, whose resignation Gusmão demanded earlier, under house arrest Thursday to await trial on charges of "conspiracy and attempted revolution".
Weapons allegedly distributed to civilians by Lobato were handed over to Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro Saturday in the presence of Gusmão at the president's private home outside Dili.
Monteiro, who heads the investigation into the former interior minister and FRETILIN vice-president, told Lusa earlier in the week that no investigation had yet been opened into allegations by a self- styled government "death squad" that Alkatiri was also involved in a purported scheme to eliminate dissident security forces and political opponents.
The beleaguered prime minister has repeatedly denied the allegations, also raised by Gusmão in his ultimatum to resign, and offered to collaborate with the investigation if requested.
The violent crisis emerged in February when some 600 soldiers, sacked from the army the following month, began protests over alleged regional discrimination in the 1,500-strong military.
A bloody army crackdown against the disgruntled soldiers in late April further split the military and police force, leading to clashes between rival security force factions in the capital and triggering weeks of communal gang arson and looting rampaging.
The arrival of a four-nation, mainly Australian, peacekeeping force in late May quelled the violence that UN officials say killed 37 people and forced most of Dili's population of 130,000 from their homes.
East Timor: 2nd minister resigns in opposition to PM Alkatiri
Dili, June 25 (Lusa) - East Timor's transportation minister, Ovídeo Amaral, resigned Sunday, declaring his opposition to the ruling party's decision to rebuff President Xanana Gusmão's demand Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resign.
Amaral's resignation from the cabinet came shortly after Foreign and Defense Minister José Ramos Horta said he was stepping down.
"I presented my resignation because I don't agree with the fact that FRETILIN didn't accept Alkatiri's resignation", Amaral told Lusa.
"People have died, there are thousands of displaced Timorese in camps and this can't continue", Amaral said, adding that Alkatiri's stepping down was "the only correct decision" for the ruling party.
In another reaction to FRETILIN's showdown with the president, the leader of the largest opposition party, Fernando Araújo, said anti-government demonstrators would press ahead with protests in Dili Monday.
The head of the Democratic Party told Lusa Gusmão should sack Alkatiri, dissolve parliament and call early elections rather than carry out his threat to resign if the prime minister refused to do so.