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East Timor's Wounded President Regains Consciousness


The East Timorese President, Jose Ramos-Horta, has regained consciousness from a drug-induced coma 10 days after he was shot in an assassination attempt. Doctors at the Australian hospital where Mr. Ramos-Horta is being treated say he has made good progress, although he remains in a serious condition. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Jose Ramos-Horta is finally emerging from the fog of heavy sedation at the Royal Darwin Hospital.

The East Timorese president has already had five operations in the past week and a half, and medical staff in Darwin say he will have to undergo more minor surgery.

The doctors say the president has been responding well to treatment, but he remains in intensive care, and it is not clear when he will be fit enough to leave hospital.

Dr. Len Notaras says Mr. Ramos-Horta is being brought back to consciousness in stages.

"He is now gradually waking up and the sedation is being reduced and has been gradually speaking to the senior clinical staff around him and to a number of very close family members as well," said Dr. Notaras. "His condition at this stage is still serious."

President Ramos-Horta was shot twice in the back and chest on February 11 in an attack by rebels in the East Timorese capital, Dili. The country's prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, was targeted in a separate ambush the same day, but escaped unharmed.

Both attacks are believed to have been carried out by followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed during the assault on Mr. Ramos-Horta.

Arrest warrants have been issued against 17 people suspected of being involved in the attempted assassinations.

Australian peacekeepers, along with reinforcements from Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand, were deployed to East Timor in 2006.

They were sent to quell fighting between renegade elements of the East Timorese security forces - also led by Alfredo Reinado - and units loyal to the government.

Last week's assassination attempts prompted Australia to send an addition 200 troops and police officers to Dili amid fears of more unrest. International troops are now combing the area around Dili in search of the would-be assassins.

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