05/31/2006, 00.00
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Pope stands by Church in East Timor, appeals for peace

In Dili, where people are still fleeing, the situation is critical. According to the UN, the number of displaced people has topped 100,000. Many are sheltering in churches, convents and schools. Refuge camps have been set up around the capital.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) –The Pope is worried about the tragic events unfolding in East Timor. From his balcony in St Peter's Square, he launched today an appeal for peace and expressed his support for the efforts of the local Church in helping thousands of displaced people.

At the end of Wednesday's traditional general audience, Benedict XVI expressed his concern for the "dear nation of East Timor, which these days is prey to tensions and violence that have created victims and caused destruction."

"As I encourage the local Church and Catholic organisations, along with international organisations, to help those displaced, I urge you to pray to the Holy Virgin so that with Her maternal protection She can support the efforts of those who are trying to appease hearts and bring life back to normal."

The crisis in the former Portuguese colony however does not show any signs of abating with thousands of Dili residents abandoning their homes.

According to the United Nations, about 100,000 of the city's 150,000 residents have fled. Many have moved back to their native villages in the countryside; others have found refuge in convents and schools. About 65,000 are sheltering in camps around the capital.

Rebel soldiers yesterday called on controversial Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to resign. "He has to go," said a spokesman for the 600 soldiers the government fired in March. The prime minister, who is Muslim, is accused of mismanaging the crisis that led segments of the army to mutiny and engage loyalist troops in clashes in late April.

Despite popular pressures and demands from both within his government and the influential East Timorese Church, Mr Alkatiri seems bent on hanging on to power.

Since yesterday emergency rule is in force in an attempt to stem the violence and stop clashes between rival armed gangs that have wrecked havoc in the capital for the past week. For 30 days President Xanana Gusmao will have sole charge of the country's army, security forces, secret services and counterintelligence. He will also coordinate operations by foreign troops, 2,500 in all, sent by Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia on East Timor's request.

Some 20 people have died so far from the unrest in the capital.

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See also
Increasing calls for the prime minister's resignation
Rebel soldiers hand in weapons but peace remains elusive
East Timorese president taking over national security and defence
Ramos-Horta loses E Timor presidential election, Guterres and Ruak in runoff
Lull in unrest in Dili as government calls for UN intervention


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