Prime Minister Alkatiri resigns

The decision, announced during a press conference, is held to be a crucial step towards resolving the serious political crisis that has rocked the country for some two months. The people have greeted the news with "tears of hope" and have started to hope again.

Dili (AsiaNews) – The Prime Minister of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, has stepped down. The premier himself broke the news, saying he wanted to put an end of the political and institutional crisis that has rocked the young nation for the past two months. People greeted the news, eagerly awaited for weeks, with "tears of joy".

"Regretting the prevailing situation in the country and considering that the highest interests are those of the nation, I declare I am ready to resign from my position as prime minister," Alkatiri announced in a press conference.

A Salesian sister in Comoro, on the outskirts of Dili, told AsiaNews "many people can be seen crying" among those displaced from their homes to seek shelter from clashes that erupted last month between armed rival gangs in the capital. "The joy here is huge," she said, "now we have high hopes that the situation will return to normal." Since unrest broke out in Dili, Salesian houses and schools opened their doors to more than 40,000 displaced people, without taking churches into account In all, around 100,000 people fled the capital, heading for villages and safer places.

The crisis started in April, after Alkatiri's decision to sack 600 soldiers – 40% of the forces – from the army for "going on strike" to lament ethnic-based discrimination. The rebel soldiers clashed with loyalist soldiers and then fled to the hills. Rival gangs later took over the streets in the absence of the armed forces. The situation took a turn for the worse this month when the premier was charged with recruiting death squads to eliminate his opponents and with ordering the ex-Internal Affairs Minister, Rogerio Lobato, to distribute arms to civilian militias. Lobato has been charged and is under house arrest.

Despite huge pressure to leave his post, exerted by the people, the army and by the influential Catholic Church, Alkatiri was impassive. Yesterday Fretilin – the majority party which the premier belongs to – lent him its support, thus going against the position taken by the President, Xanana Gusmao, who had asked it to indicate a new leader. The central committee of Fretilin said removing the leader would amount to an anti-constitutional move and go against the principles of democracy.

Two ministers resigned in protest shortly afterwards: the popular Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister, Jose Ramos Horta and the Communications Minister, Ovidio Amaral. On 22 June, the head of state himself threatened to step down if Alkatiri did not resign.