Subject: AP: Political Rivals Meet In East Timor Hills To Negotiate Government Formation

East Timor: Political Rivals Meet In East Timor Hills To Negotiate Government Formation

Updated:2007-07-19 16:33:52 MYT

DILI, EAST TIMOR: East Timor's rival political forces met Thursday (July 19th) at a hillside retreat for talks on forming a coalition government, following parliamentary elections last month.

No party won a majority, making a coalition necessary to establish a stable government. Under East Timor's election rules, the largest parties have until July 30th to come up with a political solution.

The country's ruling elite is bitterly divided a year after factional fighting between police and army units spilled onto the streets, killing 37 people and driving 155,000 others from their homes.

President Jose Ramos-Horta brought together leaders of the ruling Fretilin party, which won the most votes in the June 30th polls, and an alliance headed by the new party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, the National Coalition for the Reconstruction of East Timor.

Both sides have so far rejected Ramos-Horta's calls for a power-sharing government, apparently split over who should take the top job of prime minister.

"Based on the election results, Fretilin is the winner, so the prime minister post should go to someone from Fretilin," said Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, a top party official who lost to Ramos-Horta in a presidential run-off vote in May.

Fretilin has the largest number of seats, but has been isolated in parliament and can only hold onto power by forming a weak minority government. Gusmao hopes Fretilin will go into opposition and make way for his three-party alliance.

Ramos-Horta, speaking to reporters at a hillside convent where negotiations were under way, said "the main objective is to create better conditions for the people of East Timor," but provided no details about the status of talks.

Ramos-Horta, Gusmao's closest political ally, has the power to block or approve coalition proposals.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony of less than a million people, faces major humanitarian and economic challenges just five years after it became Asia's newest state in a U.N.-backed independence vote.

It relies on thousands of foreign peacekeepers for security, unemployment hovers at around 50 percent, and aid agencies have warned that a fifth of the population is threatened by food shortages after crop failures. (By GUIDO GOULART/AP)

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