05 November 2008

East Timor opposition plans rally

Canberra Times JENNA HAND 26/10/2008 9:44:00 AM - EAST TIMOR'S Opposition Leader has denied a rally of up to 70,000 anti-government protesters would breach the fragile peace in the South-East Asian nation.

Speaking ahead of his visit to Canberra this week, Mari Alkatiri said he did not believe a demonstration by Fretilin supporters would lead to riots of the kind seen in 2006, in which at least 37 people died.

Fretilin has not named a date for its proposed march.

''The march itself will never destabilise the country,'' he said. ''It is a way for the people to feel free that finally there are free demonstrations without violence ... It is our constitutional right.''

Dr Alkatiri said the purpose of the march was to protest against Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's ''unconstitutional'' and ''corrupt'' government.

''I think the Government needs to know that people are aware of the corruption. It is time for the people to say something, but peacefully,'' he said.

The Fretilin opposition party maintains it was cheated in last year's parliamentary election, which was overseen by the United Nations.

''We won the election in 2007 and we did not have the opportunity to govern,'' Dr Alkatiri said, adding that the international election scrutineers ''knew Fretilin won the election''.

He is calling for another election to take place next year rather than waiting until 2012 to challenge the Government.

The second secretary of the Embassy of Timor-Leste, Lisualdo Gaspar, said any allegations of government corruption needed to be substantiated by investigations and evidence.

Dr Alkatiri also denied his party was behind pamphlets circulating the capital that allege discrimination is rife within government institutions.

''I think that it is groups that are close to the Government doing this. Xanana is really trying to divide the people,'' he said.

Last week, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced Australia would withdraw 100 troops from East Timor early next year, reducing the number of Australian personnel to 650.

Dr Alkatiri said he would like to see all Australian troops removed by the end of 2009.

Dr Alkatiri will give a public lecture tomorrow at the ANU's Finkel Theatre in the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Garran Road, from 12.30pm-1.30pm.

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