February 12th, 2015

Santana, Konis

East Timor accepts resistance hero PM's resignation

East Timor's president accepted the resignation of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as prime minister on Monday, paving the way for a major government overhaul and a new chapter in the nation's short history.

Gusmao, who has served as either president or premier since East Timor became independent in 2002 following a long struggle against Indonesian occupation, submitted his resignation last week.

The departure of the former guerrilla fighter deprives 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.

At a Cabinet meeting, President Taur Matan Ruak announced "that he accepted the request for resignation", said the government in a statement.

It said the president would now start the process of forming a new government, and "it is expected that the constitution of the new government will be concluded at the end of this week".

A successor for 68-year-old Gusmao has not yet been announced but the frontrunner is seen as former health minister Rui Araujo. Gusmao may remain in government but in a lesser role, observers predict.

Gusmao, who spent years living in the jungle during Indonesian occupation, had signalled over the past year that he would be stepping down. But he delayed the move repeatedly as he sought to ensure everything was in place for a smooth transition.

- Easing political tensions -

Analysts say the cabinet reshuffle is likely aimed at getting rid of several ministers from Gusmao's coalition who have been accused of corruption.

It is also expected that the opposition Fretilin party will be brought into government, a move aimed at easing the half-island nation's often fraught politics.

Gusmao last week urged people "not to panic" during the transition to a new government, and called on everyone to "contribute towards stability".

East Timor has suffered bouts of unrest in the past, although recent years have been largely peaceful, allowing UN peacekeepers finally to leave the country in 2012.

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.

He was captured by the Indonesians and imprisoned in Jakarta during the final years of the occupation, but kept up the independence struggle from behind bars.

After the Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-backed referendum in 1999, Gusmao 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 independence.

He urged reconciliation, persuading pro-Indonesian militiamen who had gone on a murderous rampage following the referendum 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 which left dozens dead and forced 150,000 into camps.

He remains hugely popular but has struggled to fulfil his pledges of improving livelihoods in the deeply poor country, and diversifying the economy away from oil and gas.

Santana, Konis

East Timor president picks former health minister Araujo as new PM

(Reuters) - East Timor's president chose former health minister Rui Araujo to be the new prime minister of the poverty-stricken country, the government said on Tuesday.

Araujo replaces independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who stepped down last week to allow for a younger generation to lead.

Gusmao, 68, and his ruling CNRT party recommended that Araujo take the helm even though the New Zealand-trained doctor is from the opposition Fretilin party.

"The president of the republic accepted the proposal of CNRT, the most voted party at the last legislative elections, which nominated Dr Rui Maria Araujo for the post as prime minister," the government said in a statement.

Araujo is expected to be sworn in this week as East Timor's fifth prime minister since it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.

"Rui's appointment should transform Timorese politics by ushering in a new period of cross-party cooperation," said Cillian Nolan, deputy director of a Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

"The challenge will be to cultivate the same kind of authority and credibility as his predecessor."

Many believe Gusmao, who became prime minister in May 2007 after serving as the first post-independence president, will maintain influence in government. But it is not clear what role he might take.

East Timor has struggled to develop economically since independence. Despite gas production worth billions of dollars, around half of the country's population of 1.2 million lives in poverty, the World Bank says.

East Timor is trying to develop more of its natural resources to boost employment and government revenue.

It is in talks with Australia's Woodside Petroleum to resolve a decades-long row over the Greater Sunrise project, which remains undeveloped 40 years after the gas fields were discovered.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, after Portugal abruptly pulled out of a colony it had ruled for three centuries, and annexed the territory later that year, maintaining a heavy and at times brutal military presence for decades.

(Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Robert Birsel)