Subject: AFP: ETimor violence recalls independence: Ramos-Horta

ETimor violence recalls independence: Ramos-Horta

by Nelson da Cruz Thu Aug 9, 3:51 AM ET

DILI (AFP) - As East Timor's new government began its first working day Thursday, President Jose Ramos-Horta said violence that broke out this week recalled the bloody days of the nation's independence vote.

Unrest surrounding East Timor's vote to break away from Indonesia in 1999 led to the deaths of some 1,400 people and saw militias allegedly backed by Indonesia's military lay waste to much of the tiny nation.

While the violence that erupted in Dili and several other towns on Monday, following the announcement of a new government headed by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, has not led to any deaths, tensions have been running high.

"The violence against state property, civilians and the church reminded us of the brutal actions of the militias in 1999," Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, said in a speech to lawmakers.

At least eight people, including four UN police, have been injured in the mayhem, which has seen marauding gangs torch buildings, pelt rocks at bystanders and set up threatening road blocks.

Ramos-Horta said the perpetrators had "shown that they have no understanding of Fretilin's role in the country's democracy and have discredited Fretilin leaders."

The former ruling party Fretilin has disputed the legality of Gusmao's government, which was appointed by the president after June elections saw no party win the absolute majority to rule.

But it has said it will sit in opposition, though no lawmakers turned up to parliament on Thursday.

"The latest developments in Dili, Baucau and Viqueque have brought grief to the people," Ramos-Horta said, referring to two eastern towns that are Fretilin strongholds.

"The violence is proof that these Fretilin elements have no understanding or adequate knowledge of their party's participation in this country's democratic institutions," he said.

The party, which won the most number of seats in parliament but was unable to cobble together a coalition to give it a majority, has said it has called on its supporters to refrain from violence.

Gusmao, who heads a coalition of four parties which together holds 37 seats in the 65-seat parliament, heard the speech along with other cabinet members sitting in the legislature on their first day in office.

Agio Pereira, state secretary for the council of ministers, said cabinet members had begun work "by getting to know their staff and listening to them so they can start making structural readjustments" to their ministries.

Gusmao's government has a massive task ahead to develop the impoverished but oil- and gas-rich nation. Unemployment is at 50 percent, disaffected youth threaten social stability and the health and education systems are in disarray.

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