Dili – About 15,000 East Timorese staged a second consecutive day of protest today and demanded the provincial governor quit over a threat to fire government employees who support an independence referendum for the troubled territory.
The protesters arrived in hundreds of cars and motorcycles from several regencies in the morning and joined others already in the East Timor capital, Dili. Waving banners and chanting pro-independence slogans, the protesters marched down several streets. Stores, offices and schools were closed.
Hundreds of riot police blocked the crowd from entering the compound of the governor's office. There were no reports of violence or arrests.
The protesters were angered by a recent statement by Governor Jose Abilio Osorio Soares that civil servants in the province must support a proposal by the Indonesian government to grant autonomy, not independence, to the former Portuguese colony. Soares also threatened to fire government employees who back calls by separatists for a referendum on independence.
"We will keep on protesting until the government responds to our demands," said Leandro Isaac, a protest organizer. He also threatened to hold similar protest for the release of jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao, who is now serving a 30-year prison sentence in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. On the first day of protest yesterday, police blocked a long convoy of motorcycles and cars.
[The Timorese started gathering in Korem, at the centre of Dil, around nine this morning. By 9:50 am, close to 15,000 had assembled in the area. There were about 1,000 vehicles there with 40 trucks and cars from Liquicia district, 30 from Ermera region, 15 from Aileu and 20 from Manatuto.
The procession then moved from Korem through Dili, passing through Becora, Tailessi, Matadouro, the cathedral at Vila Verde, Comoro and Governor Abilio Soares' residence near the beach. The demonstration ended at Lapangan Pramuka opposite the former Chinese school. The East Timorese were carrying banners and shouting "Autonomy No! Referendum Yes!" - East Timor International Support Centre.]