Subject: Pope statue a symbol of Timorese freedom struggle

The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

April 19, 2008

Pope statue a symbol of Timorese freedom struggle

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili

WHEN dozens of East Timorese students defied Indonesian security forces and rioted in front of Pope John Paul II in October 1989, Indonesia's then brutal rule of the former Portuguese territory came under world scrutiny for the first time in years.

Almost 20 years later, a 10-metre-high concrete statue of the late pontiff has been erected as a symbol of renewed hope in the deeply religious country of 1 million mostly impoverished people. When plastic is removed, probably later this month, the Pope's face will look towards the dusty oval on Dili's western outskirts where the riot took place.

The statue was made in Portugal at a cost of $1.9 billion (sic).

Indonesia's former president Suharto built a statue of Christ atop Cape Fatucama, at the eastern end of Dili harbour, in 1988. But because it was built by the dictator it was not popular with the Timorese.

Church figures in Dili hope Pope Benedict will find the time to travel to East Timor later this year. President Jose Ramos Horta urged the Pope to visit when he met him in the Vatican in January. But Vatican officials say his schedule is too tight for him to stop over in Dili on his way to or from Sydney in July for World Youth Day.

Mr Ramos Horta, who was shot and seriously wounded in attacks in Dili in February, made an emotional return to the country on Thursday after undergoing five operations in Royal Darwin Hospital.

Meanwhile, police in Dili yesterday served Jose Belo, a leading Timorese journalist, with a letter ordering him to police headquarters to be questioned over SBS's Dateline program. The program, which went to air on Wednesday, included a telephone interview with rebel leader Gastao Salsinha, who is being hunted in East Timor's mountains.

Mr Belo declined to sign acknowledgement of the letter after contacting SBS. "I'm duty bound as a journalist not to compromise my sources," he said.

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