Friday, May 4, 2007

Gusmao elected head of controversial new party

From correspondents in Dili
May 01, 2007 04:00am

EAST Timor's President Xanana Gusmao was elected the chairman of a controversial new political party.

Mr Gusmao was the sole candidate for the chairmanship of the new organisation, the National Congress of Reconstruction of Timor (CNRT), which has already drawn criticism from a rival party.

“With this result, the president and the secretary general for the 2007-2012 period are Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao and Dioniso Babo,” party spokesman Virgilio Smith said.

Mr Gusmao, a charismatic onetime guerrilla leader, made no immediate comment.

He is not seeking re-election in the former Portuguese colony's ongoing presidential poll, which is to be decided by a runoff vote on May 9.

But he has said he wants to become prime minister, a more powerful job in East Timor than the largely ceremonial role of president, providing the new party does well enough in a parliamentary election due in June.

East Timor's ruling Fretilin party, the most powerful political force in the troubled and impoverished country, has already attacked CNRT.

The new party's initials, which are based on the Portuguese version of its name, are the same as a now disbanded pro-independence movement active during East Timor's occupation by Indonesia.

Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary General of Fretilin, has said the use of the initials was “cynical” and “opportunistic” and has threatened legal action.

The May 9 presidential runoff pits Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta against Fretilin's candidate Francisco Guterres.

If Mr Ramos-Horta wins and Mr Gusmao achieves his goal of becoming premier, the two associates would end up swapping their current jobs. Mr Gusmao has backed Mr Ramos-Horta's candidacy.

The presidential election is East Timor's first since it achieved independence in 2002, after 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and a period of UN stewardship.

Mr Gusmao, feted by many East Timorese for taking up arms against occupying Indonesian forces, became head of state in a presidential poll prior to independence.,23599,21651123-401,00.html

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