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Tags: ETimor | politics | prime minister | resignation

East Timor Resistance Hero PM Offers Resignation

Friday, 06 February 2015 06:21 AM

East Timor resistance hero Xanana Gusmao has submitted his resignation as prime minister, the government said Friday, after more than a decade leading the half-island nation during the fraught early years of its independence.

The president must now decide whether to accept the resignation of the 68-year-old, who has served as either president or prime minister since East Timor became independent in 2002 following a long struggle against Indonesian occupation.

The departure of the former guerrilla fighter would deprive Asia's youngest nation of a unifying figure who has helped resolve numerous crises, but analysts say it is time for Gusmao to step aside to enable a transition to a new generation of leaders.

While he remains popular, Gusmao has struggled to fulfill his promises of improving livelihoods in one of the world's poorest countries, and diversifying an economy that relies heavily on abundant oil and gas reserves.

"The transition is starting now and I urge all parties not to panic," said Gusmao, who spent years living in the jungle when he was a resistance fighter. "We must all contribute towards stability."

Speculation had been mounting that Gusmao would step aside after he began talks with the president earlier this week about a major government overhaul, which is expected to be announced in the coming days.

In a statement Friday, the government said that Gusmao had sent his letter of resignation to President Taur Matan Ruak.

"It is now for the president of the republic to consider and respond to the letter of resignation," it added.

Observers say that Gusmao may continue in government after resigning as premier, but in a lesser role. His successor has not been confirmed, but one of the frontrunners is former health minister Rui Araujo, from the opposition Fretilin party.

Bringing Fretilin into government with Gusmao's coalition is seen as a way of easing political tensions in the country of 1.1 million people.



Authorities previously said that talks were under way on a "major restructure of the government", with analysts saying that the reshuffle could be aimed at getting rid of ministers who had been accused of corruption, before Gusmao steps down.

Gusmao has repeatedly delayed his resignation, with observers saying he was likely trying to ensure the graft scandals were dealt with before he stepped aside.

Professor Damien Kingsbury, an East Timor expert at Australia's Deakin University, said Gusmao's resignation was a "tricky moment" for the country.

"No time is going to be a good time, but the reality is that he does have to go at some point one way or another," he added.

Gusmao led the military wing of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, which fought against Indonesian occupation. Before Indonesia invaded in 1975, Portugal had ruled East Timor for centuries.

After years fighting the Indonesians, he was captured and imprisoned in Jakarta towards the end of the occupation. However, he continued to lead the struggle for independence from behind bars.

After the Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-backed referendum in 1999, he returned to his homeland a hero and was elected the country's first president in 2002. He has been prime minister since 2007.

He is credited with resolving numerous crises in the chaotic early years of the country's independence.

Gusmao urged reconciliation, persuading pro-Indonesian militiamen who had gone on a murderous rampage following the vote to return home.

Gusmao also helped to keep a lid on communal tensions after a crisis in 2006, when soldiers sacked from the army launched a mutiny that sparked factional violence that left dozens dead and forced 150,000 into makeshift camps.

East Timor's development has been hindered by bouts of unrest, although the last eight years have been largely peaceful, allowing UN peacekeepers to finally leave the country in 2012 after elections went smoothly.

© AFP 2021

East Timor resistance hero Xanana Gusmao has submitted his resignation as prime minister, the government said Friday, after more than a decade leading the half-island nation during the fraught early years of its independence.
ETimor, politics, prime minister, resignation
Friday, 06 February 2015 06:21 AM
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