Subject: Lusa: Thousands celebrate PM's resignation, but demand early elections

Also PM Alkatiri resigns, bowing to presidential ultimatum

East Timor: Thousands celebrate PM's resignation, but demand early elections

Dili, June 26 (Lusa) - Thousands of jubilant demonstrators celebrated the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri throughout Monday in the violence-scarred capital of East Timor, but some demonstration leaders said they stood by demands for early elections.

Chanting "victory", raucous crowds, many blaring car and motorcycle horns, filled Dili's streets for a fifth straight day, transforming earlier protests against Alkatiri into a celebration of triumph.

Many in the crowds waved flags of Portugal and Australia, two participants in the four-nation international peacekeeping force that began arriving in Dili in late May to quell weeks of violence.

One car in a festive caravan sported a large caricature of Alkatiri behind bars with an English caption reading: "Welcome to you new home", referring to allegations the outgoing prime minister was involved in arming civilian groups during the recent violence.

Using sniffer dogs, Malaysian police screened the swelling number of demonstrators, estimated by evening at about 7,000, and vehicles entering the capital for weapons and explosives.

As night fell, a throng cheered loudly when Foreign and Defense Minister José Ramos Horta told them outside the government headquarters that President Xanana Gusmão had accepted Alkatiri's resignation earlier in the day.

The jubilation dampened, however, when Ramos Horta explained the president would not dissolve parliament and call early elections, as demanded by some demonstration leaders for days.

Dissident army Maj. Alves Tara told the crowd, after the minister left, that the demonstrations, which began Thursday, would continue until the "people's voice" was heard and early elections called.

Ramos Horta explained that the country didn't have the resources or sufficient time to organize an early return to the polls and that regularly scheduled elections would be held, as planned, in the first quarter of next year.

He said he would be travelling to New York to seek the United Nations' help in financing and organizing the vote.

SAS/EL.

Lusa

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East Timor: PM Alkatiri resigns, bowing to presidential ultimatum

Dili, June 26 (Lusa) - Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, in a dramatic about-face, resigned Monday, bowing to President Xanana Gusmão's him-or-me ultimatum to resolve East Timor's months-long spiral of violence and political turmoil.

The president's office issued a brief communiqué, saying Gusmão had accepted Alkatiri's resignation, announced hours earlier at a surprise news conference, with immediate effect and had convened a meeting of his consultative Council of State for Tuesday.

Some 5,000 anti-Alkatiri demonstrators celebrated the news in the streets of the capital and one protest leader said they would remain in Dili until a new government was formed.

International peacekeeping forces, deployed in the country since late May, searched demonstrators and vehicles entering the capital for weapons and explosives.

Alkatiri's news conference announcement he was resigning, assuming his "share of responsibilities" for the crisis, and that he was ready to aid the setting up of an "interim government" came as his cabinet showed signs of unraveling and amid news that a court was summoning him for inquiry into allegations of distributing weapons to civilians.

Foreign and Defense Minister José Ramos Horta, who threatened to resign Sunday in opposition to FRETILIN's deadlock with Gusmão, told a news conference the ruling party was considering three ministers as a replacement for Alkatiri.

Stressing that the choice should be one pleasing to the president, Ramos Horta said his own preference went to Minister of State and State Administration Ana Pessoa, a person of "integrity" who had the party's "total confidence".

The resignation announcement followed the ruling FRETILIN party's rebuff Sunday of Gusmão's demand last week, backed by a threat he would otherwise resign as president, that Alkatiri step aside.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, whose country has deployed some 1,500 peacekeepers in East Timor, said in a radio interview that he feared new outbreaks of violence between supporters of Gusmão and Alkatiri.

The special UN representative to Dili, Sukehiro Hasegawa, said in a communiqué that he had received "guarantees" from both the president and the outgoing prime minister that they had asked supporters to stay away from each other and to avoid violence.

Shortly before Alkatiri's resignation announcement, five additional cabinet members said they were preparing to abandon the government.

On Sunday after FRETILIN's decision to buck the president's ultimatum, two ministers said they were resigning, including Ramos Horta, a political independent close to Gusmão.

A judicial source told Lusa the court investigating allegations the government had distributed weapons to civilians, including to a self-styled hit team, would present Alkatiri with a summons Monday for a hearing Friday.

Alkatiri has vehemently denied allegations of his involvement in the purported scheme to eliminate dissident security forces and political opponents, charges that led the court to place his former interior minister under house arrest to await trial on accusations of "conspiracy and attempted revolution".

The judicial source said former Interior Minister Rogério Lobato, who resigned June 1 as demanded by Gusmão, had confessed during court hearings.

The outgoing 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 country's 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.

Portugal, East Timor's former colonial ruler, contributed a 127-strong contingent of paramilitary GNR police.

SAS/EL.

Lusa


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