06 May 2012

‘Illegal’ Workers' Day Protest Ends in Conflict, Arrests

JORNAL INDEPENDENTE 2 May 2012 By: Eugenio Pereira DILI: Demonstrators threw rocks at police during an International Workers' Day protest in front of Hotel Timor yesterday, cracking the windscreen of a patrol car and a window at the hotel.

During the demonstration, organised by socialist workers union STCST, protestors marched from the Balidi church to Hotel Timor.

The conflict began after protesters arrived in Colmera and the national police force, PNTL, advised them that their demonstration was illegal because PNTL had not been informed of the action prior to the event.

Police and STCST’s coordinator argued about the protest action against Hotel Timor manager Joaqim Perdigao, who sacked four of his Timorese workers recently for stealing.

PNTL arrested five people who they said they considered to be the principal perpetrators of the illegal activity, including STCST coordinator Helder Aleixo, Akita and Xisto Freitas, and two female workers from Hotel Timor who were demonstrating against the hotel's manager.

PNTL Dili District Commander Pedro Belo and his subordinates had been confronted by angry shouting and rocks were thrown at PNTL officers.

The windscreen of the Pajero used by operation commander, Chief Superintendent Armando Montero, was cracked by projectiles and Hotel Timor’s window was also damaged.

PNTL officers drew their guns and shot into the air to calm the situation before a task force with the police Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) moved in and arrested several people.

SEFOPE director of employment Aniceto Leto Soro said the demonstration was illegal because STCST did not submit a letter of understanding to PNTL five days before the action.

“The action is not legal, because there is a law that says only the workers can conduct a strike, and not the union,” Mr Leto said.

Demonstrators needed to organise their actions carefully in accordance with the law, he said.

Meanwhile, PNTL’s Dili District commander said the officers had been right to make the arrests because the police force considered the demonstration to be illegal.

“The law says the demonstration must be 100 metres (away), but you are not complying and are conducting an illegal action, so we must arrest you,” Commander Belo said.

PNTL would conduct further investigations into those arrested, he said.

Meanwhile, an International Workers' Day event organised by the Timor-Leste Union Confederation (KSTL) involving Dili workers ran peacefully and legally with the knowledge of PNTL.

KSTL president Jose da Concecao da Costa said the action, which began at the KSTL office in Mandarin and moved on to Colmera, Government Place, Dili Stadium and Audian Bemori before finishing in the Peace Garden, was successful.

KSTL was demanding that the government make changes to the labour law, and that companies improved salaries for workers, he said.

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