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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 12:37 GMT
East Timor declares state of alert
The Australian-owned Hello Mister supermarket burns
Rioters set a supermarket ablaze
East Timor is on a state of alert after riots sparked by the arrest of a student in the capital Dili left at least one person dead.

A United Nations official told the BBC that local police backed by UN police and peace-keeping troops had brought the city back under control.

It seems that everything is calming down a little bit

Jose Guterres
chief of staff to the East Timorese prime minister
The local UN special representative, Kamalesh Sharma, has held talks with East Timorese leaders to resolve the problem, UN spokesman Brennan Jones said.

East Timorese officials played down the gravity of the situation after initial reports that a state of emergency was being introduced but a curfew has been in force since 1900 local time (1000GMT).

"Now it seems that everything is calming down a little bit," said Jose Guterres, chief of staff to Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

UN peacekeeper outside a Dili high school
UN peacekeepers are said to be patrolling the streets
He told the French news agency AFP that, while there was a state of alert, the curfew was less an actual curfew than an appeal for people to stay at home.

'Political agenda'

Violence erupted during the morning when a crowd protesting at Tuesday's arrest of a student gathered at the parliament and then went on the rampage. Police made about 30 arrests.

It was the most serious unrest in East Timor since formal independence was declared this May.

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta blamed the unrest on "political manipulation".

"There is no list of social and economic demands. There is an agenda of pure political manipulation," he told Portuguese radio.

'Bump in the road'

The UN's special representative has had talks with both President Xanana Gusmao and the prime minister, Mr Jones said.

"There are serious talks going on to try and resolve this bump in the road," the UN spokesman said.

"It's a young government, it's a young police force, it's a young administration, and we hope that things can return to normal quickly."

Police shield President Xanana Gusmao from rioters
Mr Gusmao was escorted to safety
About 500 youths went on the rampage after trouble began at the rally outside parliament.

In the confusion which followed, a 16-year-old student was killed but reports speak of up to three more deaths.

It is not clear whether the firing came from the crowd or from the police.

The crowd looted hotels and shops, including an Australian-owned supermarket that caters mostly to foreigners, and set fire to buildings including the prime minister's house.

President Xanana Gusmao arrived at the scene but was unable to restore calm and had to be escorted inside police headquarters nearby.

At least 30 United Nations peacekeepers were called to the parliament building.

The Australian Embassy in Dili has advised Australians to avoid the city centre until the situation calms down, the Reuters news agency reported.


Vic Josey, the acting deputy commissioner of the United Nations peacekeeping force, told the BBC that the state of alert would be reviewed daily.

"The situation is still very fluid," he said.

The world's newest nation remains desperately poor and there is high unemployment.

East Timor became fully independent after two years of UN administration following 24 years of Indonesian rule.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Jakarta says the rioting may be a result of a "clash between expectations and reality" in the tiny, impoverished state.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Jakarta
"A peaceful demonstration by students turns ugly"
Vic Josey, UN deputy commissioner of operations
"We have increased awareness and are in a heightened state of alert"
Lucia Withers, Amnesty International
"The East Timorese government has to prove to them that they're building something different"

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See also:

04 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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