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Gusmao Asks East Timorese to Forgive and Forget


East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao is appealing for rival gangs and his country's armed forces to forgive each other and unite, following weeks of internal fighting.

Mr. Gusmao says people from the east and west of the country should try to forget their differences and work together to rebuild East Timor. He is urging all sides to cooperate with an Australian-led peacekeeping force and surrender their weapons.

Mr. Gusmao's appeal came in an emotional address Thursday at East Timor's police headquarters in the capital, Dili. The president dismissed the country's defense and interior ministers and assumed emergency control of security forces this week to deal with the unrest, which has killed at least 27 people.

Despite Mr. Gusmao's emergency decrees, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri says his government is still in charge of defense and security. Mr. Alkatiri has come under fire for his handling of a military mutiny that led to the current violence. (Major Alfredo Reinado) The leader of a group of soldiers dismissed by the prime minister says Mr. Alkatiri must step down.

The United Nations says the violence in East Timor has displaced 100,000 people, about two-thirds of them in Dili and the rest dispersed throughout the countryside. A U.N. team says the refugees' most critical needs are security, food, clean water and shelter.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP .