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Australian PM Visits East Timor, Pledges Support


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says "rogue elements" will not be allowed to derail democracy in East Timor. Mr. Rudd is visiting the country following this week's assassination attempts on the country's president and prime minister. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Kevin Rudd's visit is a show of support for the East Timorese government after a traumatic week in which both President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao were targeted by rebels.

Mr. Rudd will be briefed on the security situation in the country and will meet the commander of the United Nations' International Stabilization Force. He will also have talks with senior members of the Australian Federal Police and his East Timorese counterpart, Mr. Gusmao.

Reinforcements sent to Dili by Canberra since the attacks have boosted Australia's peacekeeping contingent to about 1,100 soldiers and police officers.

Mr. Rudd brought with him a clear message. He said his government would do everything possible to safeguard democratic institutions in East Timor.

Australia's support for the young nation, he insists, is "absolutely rock solid" - and he brushed aside concerns for his own safety during his visit.

"Absolutely no concerns in relation to my own security. I am, however, deeply concerned about the future security and stability of East Timor, and we've got a thousand men and women in uniform up there, and 100 police and a whole bunch of other Australians," said Mr. Rudd. "I think I've got a responsibility given recent events also to ensure that they have what they need to do their job properly."

Mr. Rudd was invited by Mr. Gusmao, who escaped unhurt after rebels attacked his car earlier this week.

President Jose Ramos Horta was shot twice in a separate ambush and is in serious condition in a hospital in Australia's northern city of Darwin. Mr. Rudd is due to visit the president on his return to Australia.

The assassination attempt was led by a fugitive rebel commander, Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in a gunfight with presidential guards. The former military police chief had led a revolt against East Timor's government, and had been indicted for his alleged role in fighting between rebel troops and police in 2006.

That earlier violence prompted the intervention of peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, which make up the International Stabilization Force in East Timor.

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