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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
E Timor PM refuses to step down
East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, left, is escorted by an Australian soldier into the offices of President Xanana Gusmao in Dili, East Timor, Tuesday, May 30, 2006.
Mr Alkatiri has been blamed by many for the violence
East Timor's PM Mari Alkatiri has told the BBC he will not resign, despite being blamed for not ending the unrest which has paralysed the capital Dili.

Mr Alkatiri also disputed whether President Xanana Gusmao, who announced emergency rule on Tuesday, was now in sole charge of the country's security.

Dili was calmer on Wednesday, though some arson and fighting continued.

Fifteen major aid donors to East Timor, including foreign governments, urged rival groups to stop their feuding.

Mr Alkatiri has been blamed by other members of the government for failing to stop the violence, which was triggered by his decision to sack of hundreds of troops after they went on strike.

TENSIONS MOUNT
Feb: More than 400 troops strike over pay and conditions
March: Government sacks nearly 600 of 1,400-man army
April: Rioting by sacked troops leaves five people dead
May: Violence intensifies, with battles between gangs from east and west of the country
24 May: Government asks foreign troops to take control

But the prime minister said any political change would have to wait for parliamentary elections in 2007.

"Wait until the election and people will vote," he told the BBC. "If you are talking on the name of the people, bring the people to vote"

Political dispute

On Tuesday, Mr Gusmao said the decision to impose emergency rule - which would last 30 days - had been taken in "close collaboration" with Mr Alkatiri.

Emergency powers will give Mr Gusmao control of the army and police, split by internal disputes and gang violence.

But the prime minister disputed whether Mr Gusmao was now in control of the security forces.

"You are wrong, completely wrong, he [Mr Gusmao] is not taking control," he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"The defence and security is still part of the government, and I am the head of the government," he said, blaming the confusion on a misinterpretation of Gusmao's statement from Portuguese into English.

The intervention of the president, who normally plays a largely symbolic role, will be widely welcomed, says the BBC's Jonathan Head, who is in the capital Dili.

But he alone cannot fix the loss of confidence in East Timor's government.

At least 20 people are reported to have been killed and tens of thousands have fled their homes since the violence began.

On Wednesday, as news of Mr Gusmao's announcement spread, most of Dili was reported to be much calmer than in recent days. But there were some reports of gunfire and of gangs torching buildings, as well as street fights between rivals.

The immediate cause of the unrest was the sacking of 600 striking soldiers in March. The soldiers, who were mainly from the west of the country, complained of discrimination against them by leaders from the east.

An Australian soldier looks as a building burns in Dili on 30 May 2006
A number of houses in Dili have been ransacked and set on fire

But there are also signs that some of the violence is politically motivated.

Attorney-General Longuinhos Monteiro told the BBC on Tuesday that his offices had been looted on several occasions and up to 15% of the criminal archive stolen.

Some of the stolen files relate to Indonesia's bloody withdrawal from East Timor following a 1999 referendum.

Pro-Indonesian militias were accused of orchestrating the violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead.

The head of the Australian military, Angus Houston, says he believes his country's peacekeepers will be in East Timor for six months.

Air Chief Marshal Houston told a Senate committee that he hoped to scale down the operation as order returned.




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