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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 11:39 GMT
Q&A: Trouble in East Timor
Deaths are reported in East Timor during the worst clashes in the capital Dili for at least six months. BBC News Online looks at what has led up to the violence in the former Indonesian territory.

Q: How bad is it?

Minor unrest in not uncommon in East Timor, but Wednesday's trouble is being described as some of the worst since 1999. Then, a vote on whether the territory should break with Indonesia triggered bloody reprisals by pro-Jakarta militia gangs backed by some elements of the Indonesian military. Observers are also saying the latest disturbances also represent a blow to efforts to establish democracy in the newly-independent country.

Q: What lies behind the violence?

A: Peaceful student protests developed into stone-throwing, looting and arson and eventually to gunfire in clashes with police, although it is not clear whether the police alone were using firearms. The BBC's Rachel Harvey says the unrest could be an outpouring of frustration that progress in East Timor has not been faster. Most of East Timor's 800,000 people depend for a living on subsistence farming and fishing. Poverty and unemployment are widespread.

Q: What has fuelled expectations of development?

A: East Timor officially became independent in May 2002, bringing to a close 400 years of domination by foreigners. In the run-up to the independence vote it was administered by the UN on a temporary basis. Before that, it was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter of a century after the former colonial power, Portugal,
withdrew. Ahead of official independence, the East Timorese elected their own president and government. One of their key tasks is to tackle the economic challenges facing the new country - one of the poorest in the world.

Q: Who are the key figures?

A: The new state's president is former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao - a legend among his people, who have invested hopes that his high-profile reputation will help build a stable country. He has vowed to open the country to foreign investment and work for reconciliation with former pro-Indonesian militiamen. Although some senior officials acknowledge that poverty and poor living conditions are factors behind the unrest, they also point a finger at political manipulation.


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