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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 11:36 GMT
East Timor chooses political system
Violence during the 1999 independence vote
The path to independence has been a violent one
East Timor's parliament has approved a draft of the constitution it will adopt when it becomes formally independent in May.

Officials said the charter envisions a parliamentary system supported by a largely symbolic president, and is loosely based on the Portuguese political arrangement.

The final document is expected to be adopted in early March and made effective on 20 May when the fledgling territory assumes full statehood.

East Timor voted in 1999 for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

The territory has been under UN administration since the vote.

Draft details

The draft constitution divides power between the executive, legislative, and judiciary, and provides for a politically neutral military.

It stipulates that the predominantly Catholic country will have no state religion and guarantees press freedom.

Xanana Gusmao
The popular Xanana Gusmao is likely to be president
Following a long debate on the appropriate official language, Portuguese and Tetum, the local language, have been chosen, with English and Bahasa Indonesia to be used as working languages.

East Timor's 88-member assembly approved the draft resolution by 65-0 with 23 abstentions and absentees.

Later this month officials will tour the country to gather public opinion on the draft before it is finally adopted.

East Timor's new president is due to be elected in April. The prime contender for the post is the charismatic independence leader, Xanana Gusmao.

Laureate 'thrilled'

Jose Ramos-Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel peace prize for helping to alert the international community to East Timor's plight, said the approval of the constitution was an historic achievement.

"I'm absolutely thrilled, not only for the content of the draft - which is one of the most progressive in the world - but because it is our first independent constitution," he said.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese are believed to have died during the 25-year occupation by Indonesia and at least 1,000 people were killed before and after the 1999 plebiscite.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
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31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
24 Aug 01 | Country profiles
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