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Violence Erupts in East Timor - 2002-12-04


East Timor's government imposes a state of emergency after at least five people are killed in clashes between police and rioters. Violent student protests prompt police to open fire.

East Timor's government imposed a curfew for 7 p.m. local time to quell the violence rocking the streets of the capital, Dili.

On Wednesday, hundreds of students rampaged through the city, burning down the Prime Minister's house, setting fire to a supermarket and throwing stones at police headquarters. Witnesses say the first deaths came when police fired into a crowd of roughly 500 students who had gathered outside the police station.

"The students got violent first and then the police had to take action to control the situation," said Lakhan Mehrotra, East Timor's U.N. representative in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Mr. Mehrotra says students started demonstrating on Tuesday afternoon, after police arrested one of their leaders. "I believe that yesterday at the uni campus the police were trying to get hold of a student who had apparently indulged in gang violence," he said. "And that some students took umbrage at that. I believe, they started hitting the police and then it was followed by further demonstrations by the students."

The U.N. has been in East Timor for more than three years. It supervised East Timor's 1999 vote to break free of Indonesia ending 24 years of fighting. U.N. peacekeepers helped East Timor's government set up the institutions it needed to sustain the independence it achieved in May.

But analysts say some East Timorese have become disillusioned with both the United Nations and their new government which they expected would do more to improve the lives of ordinary people.

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