Timor-Leste – president back in office

President Jose Ramos-Horta has returned to Timor-Leste (East Timor) and has recommended official duties. He officiated at Independence Day celebrations on 20 May and he has spoken for the first time about the attempt on his life in February.

On February 11 there were separate attacks on both the president and the prime minister. Prime Minister Jose Alexandre Gusmão escaped unharmed, but President Ramos-Horta was shot and seriously wounded. He was taken to Australia for treatment. The leader of the attack, Alfredo Reinado, was killed.

According to newspaper reports, President Ramos-Horta has spoken about the attack for the first time. He told AFP: “I believe that Mr Alfredo Reinado was actually led to believe by certain people that killing me and Xanana would give him power and make him the strongman of the country”. He also said: “You know the guy shot me with a high-powered rifle at close range. Surely he wasn’t planning to tickle me, so he intended to kill me”.

Last month, most of the remaining people in the rebel group surrendered their arms.

While in some senses the country is more stable after the attack, political tensions remain very high. For example, newspaper reports indicate that at the independence ceremony President Ramos-Horta refused to shake the hand of the opposition leader and ex-prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, of the Fretilin party. At the 2007 presidential election the Fretilin candidate won more votes than Mr Ramos-Horta at the first ballot, though Ramos-Horta was decisively elected at the second. More importantly, at the subsequent legislative elections Fretilin emerged as the largest party in the legislature, but an anti-Fretilin majority was constructed. Even though President Ramos-Horta ran as a non-party candidate, he is associated with the Congresso Nacional de Recontrucão de Timor-Leste (CNRT). Prime Minister Gusmão represents the CNRT, even though he too was officially non-partisan when he held the presidency prior to 2007. Both were originally associated with Fretilin, which was the main force behind the campaign for independence from Indonesia prior to 2002. Fretilin felt that it should have the option to try to form a government before CNRT. The situation led to rioting and tensions are ongoing.

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