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New Violence in East Timor as Former PM's Supporters Protest  


A new wave of violence in East Timor is raising fresh concerns over the country's stability after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned earlier this week. Rival factions and international peacekeepers are squaring off again as Mr. Alkatiri's supporters riot near refugee camps on the outskirts of Dili.

Groups of Mari Alkatiri's supporters and their rivals threw stones and burned houses and shops in Dili Wednesday. The fighting escalated after television broadcasts of a rally for the ex-prime minister, who resigned Monday.

The worst conflicts broke out between rival groups near refugee camps on the outskirts of the city. Shots rang out near the camps and peacekeepers struggled to quell the attacks.

Thousands of Mr. Alkatiri's supporters were seen at the rally outside Dili and there were calls for them to march on the capital. Mr. Alkatiri asked for the demonstrators to remain peaceful.

The marchers dispersed, but there are plans for demonstrations on Thursday in the city.

East Timor government spokesman Jose Guterres downplays concerns about supporters' plans to move into the capital on Thursday.

"They will gather peacefully. And the demonstration will be for peace, for the stability of the country, and will support Mr. Alkatiri and the Fretilin party," he said.

About 30 people have died and as many as 150,000 people fled the city since the violence broke out three months ago. Mr. Alkatiri has been blamed in part for triggering the fighting when he fired 600 members of the East Timor military.

Many politicians and political analysts say the country's poverty and high unemployment rate contribute to public anger. They say the clashes also reflect long simmering divisions between people from the east and the west of the country. Many easterners claim credit for fighting the guerrilla war that eventually led to independence from Indonesia, while westerners are considered to have supported Jakarta in the fight.

Allegations that he helped armed militia troops to assassinate political opponents are still under investigation. He is expected to be summoned to court Friday, which is likely to cause another surge of anger among his supporters.

About 2,500 peacekeeping troops, most of them from Australia, were called in last month in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed. Those forces are now trying to ease gang conflicts, while reinforcing blockades and checkpoints throughout the city.

Johnson Panjaitan served as a lawyer for President Gusmao and helped establish the new country's judicial system. He says conflict in East Timor will continue until the government allows more international intervention.

Panjaitan says local law enforcement is hamstrung because the police themselves are engaged in the rivalry between groups in the east and west of the country. He says to find a solution, the country's leaders should allow police officers, lawyers and judges from the United Nations to establish order.

He says until that happens, the violence is likely to escalate.

President Gusmao extended his emergency powers on Tuesday in response to the crisis, which gives him direct control over the military for 30 days. He also has the ability to break up large gatherings, conduct searches, and confiscate weapons. He also said he would hold new elections if the country's ruling Fretilin party failed to find a new prime minister.

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