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Ramos-Horta Named East Timor's Interim Prime Minister

  • Gabrielle Brick

East Timor's president has announced the selection of an interim prime minister, ending two weeks of suspense and providing some hope of stability for the troubled Southeast Asian nation.

East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao ended the suspense Saturday, naming Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta as the country's interim prime minister.

The country has been without a functional government since June 26, when Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned under pressure. Mr. Alkatiri is blamed for triggering unrest with the firing of 600 members of the military last March. At least 21 people were killed and nearly 150,000 people were forced to flee their homes in subsequent sectarian violence.

Ramos-Horta, a hero of East Timor's struggle for independence from Indonesia, is regarded as a unity candidate, acceptable to both the president and Alkatiri's Fretilin party.

Fretilin said that as the majority party, it had the right to choose the new prime minister. But government spokesperson Jose Guterres says Mr. Gusmao made the choice of Ramos-Horta in consultation with Fretilin.

"A number of options were considered, and the option of Dr. Ramos-Horta was also on the table, and the president… shows that Dr. Ramos-Horta is the best candidate to respond to the current situation," he said.

Guterres says putting a government in place was the important thing, and Fretilin can make its feelings known at a later time.

"It's a decision to respond to the crisis," he added. "It's a very acute, very serious crisis in the nation. Only when the crisis is over, people say they are happy."

Ramos-Horta has been in day-to-day charge of government since last week, and has served as foreign minister since the tiny Pacific country gained independence from Indonesia in 1999. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in that struggle.

He is to be formally sworn in on Monday. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next May.

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