East Timor president calls for new election to end impasse

East Timor President Francisco Guterres said on Friday that ‘only the people can help solve the new challenges’ and asked the people to vote again in fresh elections. (Reuters)
Updated 26 January 2018
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East Timor president calls for new election to end impasse

DILI: East Timor President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres said on Friday he will dissolve parliament and call for new elections in a bid to end a prolonged political impasse in the tiny country since polls last year.
The 2017 election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri winning just 0.2 percent more votes than the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Guterres asked Alkatiri, a political ally, to form government but a legislative stalemate ensued after a CNRT-led coalition, with the majority of seats in parliament, refused to pass his program.
The standoff led to Alkatiri accusing the opposition of an attempted coup, while the CNRT’s coalition described the government as unconstitutional.
“Only the people can help solve the new challenges we face. Humbly, the president asks the people to vote again in fresh elections,” Guterres told reporters.
The president said the election date would be determined according to regulations in the constitution.
Damien Kingsbury, an Australia-based East Timor expert who will act as an international observer, said it would take place in April at the earliest.
East Timor’s legislature will still function until the election date is set and campaigning begins.
Even so, the political ructions could delay any ratification of an agreement between Australia and East Timor over an estimated $40 billion in oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
A new agreement on the maritime boundary was due to be signed in March, although negotiations are continuing.
As well as an agreed sea border, East Timor wants the oil and gas to be processed at a facility on its southern coastline, a proposal that has been resisted by the joint venture with development rights over the field led by Woodside Petroleum .
Kingsbury said the political rhetoric of recent months was “highly inflammatory and confrontational.”
Police raided the premises of Gusmao’s daughter, Zenilda Gusmao, last week in relation to alleged unpaid taxes, according to media reports. The government denied the raid was politically motivated.
The new election could stoke tensions further, although Kingsbury noted that the military and police remained largely disciplined and neutral.
East Timor has been unsettled by bouts of violence and political instability since it became independent from Indonesia in 2002. Members of the military and police mutinied in 2006.
“The question is whether the parties can control their members. I am sure they have the will to do so but whether they can (remains uncertain),” Kingsbury said.
The CNRT and its partners could run as a unified coalition, which some observers believe would see them as favorites to win the new election.
Senior CNRT leader Aderito Hugo said by phone the president needed to better explain his reasons for dissolving parliament before the party would accept it.
Luis Roberto from KHUNTO, a junior member of the opposition coalition, said his party would “obey” the president’s decision.


Fire sweeps through Bangladesh slum, nine dead

Updated 17 February 2019
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Fire sweeps through Bangladesh slum, nine dead

  • Fires regularly break out in Bangladesh’s slums, where millions live in squalid living conditions

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh: A fire tore through a slum in southern Bangladesh on Sunday killing at least 9 people and destroying hundreds of shanty homes, police said.
The blaze broke out in the port city of Chittagong at about 3.30 A.M. and raced through the district of bamboo, tin and tarpaulin homes, said local police chief Pranab Chowdhury.
“At least 470 shanties were destroyed by the fire. So far 9 people have died. They included four members of a family,” fire brigade official Hefazatul Islam said.
Fires regularly break out in Bangladesh’s slums, where millions live in squalid living conditions.
Rights groups have in the past alleged some shanty town blazes were deliberate acts of sabotage by developers seeking to free up property to construct multi-story buildings.
“We have seen fires are used as a weapon to evict poor slum dwellers and squatters from government or private property,” rights activist Nur Khan Liton said.