Defection splits E Timor ruling coalition

ETimor president plays down political row, urges dialogue

DILI, May 6, 2008 (AFP) – East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta brushed aside concerns Tuesday over the future of the fledgling nation’s coalition government after a key member announced a pact with the opposition.

“This is a normal process. One should not be surprised, not be afraid,” he said a day after one of four parties in Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s coalition revealed it had struck a deal with the Fretilin opposition.

He said Gusmao should initiate talks with Fretilin to discuss their differences for the sake of the country, which has failed to flourish politically or economically since its turbulent split from Indonesia in 2002.

Gusmao’s Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) grouping could “look to other alliances in the parliament” after coalition member the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT) announced it had reached an accord with Fretilin.

“I think that what is needed is a dialogue between the government and the big Fretilin Party,” the president said.

He said Fretilin, which is still fuming after being kept from government despite having won the most votes in last year’s elections, was showing signs it was ready to talk.

Former ruling party Fretilin won 29.02 percent of the vote in the June elections but Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, which had only 24.10 percent of the vote, formed an alliance to keep it from power.

But the AMP has been rife with infighting and corruption allegations, which analysts say are impeding the impoverished young nation’s ability to raise the living standards of its one million people.

ASDT leaders have not revealed the nature of their deal with Fretilin and insist they have not quit the coalition. Sources however say the pact involves joining forces to fight the next election.

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