East Timor’s police remain on high alert after post-election violence broke out in Dili on Sunday, with tensions simmering over the death of a university student shot in the chaos.
The tension follows the 7 July parliamentary election in which Prime Minster Xanana Gusmao’s Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party won 30 seats, not enough to form a majority government.
On Sunday a live broadcast of a CNRT party conference announced that minor parties Democratic Party and Frenti-Mudanca would be invited to form a coalition — thereby excluding opposition party Fretilin.
Less than an hour after the conference mobs started gathering in Dili, throwing stones at cars and people. Police fired warnings shots and used tear gas to contain the crowds. By the end of the night police said seven homes were torched, more than 60 cars damaged and one person shot.
Tensions flared up again yesterday when political protesters carrying flags of opposition party Fretilin joined mourners in a procession behind the coffin of student Armindo Pereira, shot dead on Sunday.
The group marched from the national hospital through the streets of Dili holding banners blaming Pereira’s death on the CNRT party and Gusmao.
Panic spread through the crowd watching the procession inside the hospital grounds, with people fleeing into compounds and into the hospital.
Fretilin spokesman Jose Teixeira said the party did not organise any march or protest.
"We are appealing constantly for calm and have stressed with
the family and friends of the deceased to be peaceful and obey the law."
Riot police patrolled the streets, with a large tank-like "public order battalion" vehicle sitting in the middle of a busy intersection. Thousands of people took to the streets, watching with concern, while shops all over Dili shut their doors early.
National police (PNTL) commander Longuinhos Monteiro said there were no violent incidents related to the procession.
"The body has been taken back to Hera … according to the family and next of kin they say the body should not be used as a political issue."
Monteiro said Dili was under control yesterday except for some incidents with rock throwing around the suburb of Comoro, the same area where tensions first broke out on Sunday.
President Taur Matan Ruak left East Timor yesterday for a CPLP conference in Mozambique despite the brewing unrest.
On Monday Ruak met with the leaders of the four political parties elected to the new parliament to ask them to appeal to their members for peace.
"They have all pledged to support the President to maintain a calm situation so that once again Timor-Leste can truly show to the world that we are able to move forward on our own as a nation."
When the president returns to East Timor he must invite the CNRT to officially form a coalition government and appoint the Prime Minister. After the 2007 parliamentary elections it took more than five weeks for a coalition government to be officially formed, leading to a period of post-election instability.
Fretilin secretary-general Mari Alkatiri condemned the violence but blamed the day-long broadcast of the CNRT conference, with "insults and denigration of Fretilin as a historic party" for arousing emotions.
"It does not excuse the violence, nor does it justify it but it is an indication of how avoidable it would all have been had such a spectacle not taken place," he said on Monday.
The United Nations Integrated Mission In Timor-Leste will withdraw nearly 3000 staff by the end of the year on the condition a government is formed after the election and stability prevails.
UNMIT chief of communications Sandra McGuire said the events of Sunday night were "isolated incidents" handled well by the national police.
"There is not a crisis in Timor-Leste. The unrest was contained by the national police itself so that’s an indication of their ability to cope."
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