- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

DILI, East Timor — East Timor’s prime minister will likely resign, his spokesman said yesterday, as the president and members of the beleaguered leader’s own party demanded he step down for his handling of tensions that flared into bloody street battles.

The prime minister will meet with his Cabinet colleagues today to discuss whether he should resign, spokesman Miguel Sarmento said, adding that he would probably agree to step aside.

Many East Timorese say Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s decision to fire 600 disgruntled soldiers in March was to blame for subsequent clashes and gang warfare that left at least 30 persons dead and sent nearly 150,000 people fleeing from their homes.

The unrest — which continued yesterday with at least six buildings set ablaze — is the worst to hit the tiny Asian nation since it voted for independence from Indonesia seven years ago, sparking rampages by revenge-seeking militias.

President Xanana Gusmao wrote a letter to Mr. Alkatiri urging him to resign after an advisory body of senior ministers, known as the Council of State, met for several hours yesterday to try to find a solution to the crisis.

“I can only give you an opportunity to make a decision: you either resign, after hearing from the Council of State, or I will fire you myself because you no longer have my trust,” he wrote, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Asked whether Mr. Alkatiri would resign, his spokesman said: “Yes, I think so.”

Earlier, Mr. Alkatiri’s ruling Fretilin Party also demanded the prime minister step down, accusing him of lying about distributing weapons to civilians, said party member Vicente Maubucy Ximenes.

Mr. Alkatiri had long rebuffed demands for his resignation, saying his party wanted him in power.

The prime minister’s critics have accused him of forming a hit squad to kill his political opponents, but Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro said there was no evidence to support that, though investigations were under way.

Still, his decision to order the arrest of former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato for purportedly giving guns to Vincente “Railos” da Concecao — the self-proclaimed leader of the hit squad — put more pressure on Mr. Alkatiri.

Mr. Lobato was holed up in his home yesterday, with Australian troops guarding his street.

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