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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
East Timor's timetable for change
East Timorese polling staff practice how to vote at a polling station in Dili Tuesday, 9 April 2002
Much planning has gone into the handover of power
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By regional analyst Nicholas Nugent
East Timor's new president was inaugurated in the early hours of 20 May, shortly after the midnight handover of power by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

This brought to an end 33 months of transitional rule by the United Nations.

Legally it marked the close of more than 400 years of rule by Portugal that was interrupted when Indonesia took over the province in 1975.

East Timor was crossed off the UN's list of non self-governing territories and is expected to be granted full UN membership in due course.

Who holds power

The actual transfer of power was not that sudden. Already a transitional government was in place, led by Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Key facts:
  • Population: 800,000
  • Capital: Dili
  • Major languages: Tetun, Portuguese, Indonesian
    See also:
      Profile of East Timor

  • He is now answerable to the 88-member Legislative Assembly that was elected in August 2001. Government and assembly members were sworn in once the new president takes the oath of office.

    Under a constitution approved by assembly members - which is modelled on that of Portugal - the president will not have much executive power.

    However, he is expected to wield a great deal of influence, especially in establishing East Timor's place as the newest member of the international community of nations.

    The job of running the tiny country of fewer than a million inhabitants falls to Chief Minister Alkatiri. His key lieutenants, Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, who is in charge of foreign affairs, and Fernanda Borges, responsible for finance, are expected to retain their positions.

    Outside help

    Nor will the United Nations team leave at once. The authorised strength of the military force, which restored peace following the 1999 independence referendum, will be reduced from 9,000 to around 5,000.

    The 1,000-strong UN police force will remain until the newly formed East Timor Police Service is fully operational.

    A senior Indian diplomat, Kamalesh Sharma, has been appointed to take over a scaled-down UN operation, which is expected to focus on providing expertise in areas of administration and development where East Timor currently lacks skills.

    One area of activity that will be handed over is broadcasting.

    "It is not desirable for an independent East Timor that its main radio and television should be funded by the United Nations," said Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET).

    A new broadcasting authority is being created. East Timor's new constitution includes a commitment to press freedom.

    One of the biggest worries at the time of the independence vote in August 1999, the financial viability of the nation, has been solved by the imminent development of a large gas field in the Timor Gap sea between East Timor and Australia.

    At an early opportunity the new government is expected to ratify an agreement UNTAET has concluded with the government of Australia, which gives East Timor the lion's share of revenue from the sale of gas to Japanese power companies.

    This will guarantee the new nation a steady income until at least 2020, making the prospect of nationhood a great deal less daunting.

    See also:

    04 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Gusmao calls East Timor refugees home
    09 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Wiranto attacks Timor trials as 'unfair'
    26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Australia pledges $3m to East Timor
    25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
    E Timor, Indonesia sign accords
    21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    East Timor launches truth commission
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