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Xanana Gusmao stands down as Timor Leste PM

Xanana Gusmao has resigned as prime minister of Timor-Leste, stepping down ahead of an expected restructuring of the government next week.

“The government confirms that the prime minister of Timor-Leste, HE Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, has sent his letter of resignation from the post of prime minister to the president of the republic, HE Taur Matan Ruak,” a government spokesman said in a statement on an official website.

Gusmao, 68, is a former guerrilla leader who spearheaded East Timor’s drive for independence when Indonesian rule ended in 2002.

He was the first president of the new country – from 2002 to 2007 – and then prime minister for more than seven years.

Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly in 1999 for independence and an end to 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that had left more than 170,000 people dead. But the country has struggled since then to develop economically. About half of its 1.2 million people live in poverty.

An adviser to Gusmao said the prime minister felt it was time to pass the responsibility of governing to the next generation.

He said it was part of a restructuring of the government expected to be announced next week. Under the proposal the cabinet would be reduced from 55 to 34 ministers and would become more inclusive, with opposition members among those appointed.

The government statement said Gusmao, 68, submitted his resignation to President Taur Matan Ruak.

“Recently the prime minister encouraged all members of government to work calmly in this time of transition until the new government is sworn in,” the statement said.

The move was expected as local media reported Gusmao had advised fellow lawmakers he would step down.

If his resignation is accepted Gusmao was expected to maintain a role in government, perhaps as a co-ordinating minister, the adviser said, but the aim was for the older generation of leaders to give way to a new generation.

The adviser said Gusmao, the president and lawmakers were discussing who should be the next prime minister but that was unlikely to be announced before next week.

Former president and Nobel peace prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta was not expected to play a role in the new government, the adviser said.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal until it declared independence in late 1975. It was then invaded and occupied by Indonesia until a UN-backed referendum in 1999 followed by it becoming a sovereign state on 20 May 2002.

Source: The Guardian

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