05/29/2006, 00.00
EAST TIMOR
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Increasing calls for the prime minister's resignation

In Dili hundreds of people are demonstrating against Prime Minister Alkatiri. The Catholic Church calls for a new government. Political leaders are in emergency meetings, whilst armed gangs are still ransacking the capital.

Dili (AsiaNews) – Chaos still prevails in Dili, where clashes in the past week left at least 11 people dead. Rebel soldiers are lying in wait in the hills around the capital as armed gangs are still roaming the streets, burning homes and ransacking stores. More and more people are calling for Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's resignation.

The Church is also in favour of changes in the political leadership of this predominantly Catholic country. Mgr Alberto Ricardo da Silva, Dili's bishop, is quoted by ABC that the only solution is to remove the current government, which is responsible for the protests by 600 soldiers that led to the violence.

Hundreds of people are also demonstrating in front of the presidential palace against Alkatiri, who has been accused of corruption. He is also chided for not having taken part in the struggle for independence.

In addition to popular dissatisfaction, the government is showing signs of divisions. Leading the opposition are Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta and President Xanana Gusmao, the former guerrilla leader who for 25 years led the struggle against Indonesian occupation

The cabinet is holed up in emergency meetings and some observers believe that leaders are trying to find ways to constitutionally remove Alkatiri.

For the first time since the crisis broke out, President Gusmao appeared in public today to order the rival groups to stop the destruction and go home.

He urged the two main groups, who are drawn from two distinct ethnic groups, one from the east and the other from the west of the country, to stop fighting and reach peace for the good of the country.

Foreign troops called in by the government are having a hard time to restore order in the capital. Their numbers have now reached 2,200 including soldiers from New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal.

Australia, the first outside power to intervene, said that foreign troops might stay for a year, until elections in May of next year.

UN special envoy Ian Martin is expected to arrive today.

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