East Timor hero Gusmao urges restraint

East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao has called on supporters not to be provoked after campaigning for next weekend’s elections was marred by violence.

Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party said 18 of its supporters in Vikeke district were injured over the weekend and two vehicles were damaged in an attack by members of rival faction Fretilin.

The parliamentary elections next Saturday are the second in less than a year for East Timor after a Fretilin-led minority government collapsed in January.

After the alleged attack last Saturday, Gusmao said Fretilin was a party of violence that should be shut down but also urged his supporters to show restraint.

“I ask all of you not to respond to provocation from other parties’ members,” he said. “When you return home you should keep your own security and do not serve violence.”

Jorge Ribeiro, a local official with Gusmao’s party, said police and soldiers who responded to the violence have not arrested anyone.

Vikeke police commander Antonio Mauluto said the incident was being investigated.

Mari Alkatari, secretary-general of Fretilin, said the police investigation should take its course and told supporters to refrain from violence.

The election pits a loose grouping of Fretilin and a minor party against a formal alliance of three parties led by Gusmao’s party, which together voted against Fretilin’s policy program and budget, resulting in the new election.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.

Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces grim poverty. Leaders including Gusmao, who was East Timor’s first president from 2002 to 2007 and prime minister from 2007 to 2015, have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.

Presidential and parliamentary elections last year were the first held without UN supervision.