Jill Jolliffe, Dili – About 5000 East Timorese protesters calling for the Prime Minister to resign were camped in Dili yesterday under banners reading "End the Dictatorship".
The demonstrators, backed by the Catholic Church, have been prevented by riot police from entering the capital's main square, but have remained in a side street.
They are refusing to budge until Mari Alkatiri quits and his majority Fretilin party appoints a new government.
"The people and the Catholic Church have joined peacefully for an end to this extremist government," said Domingos Soares, a nationalist priest and a hero of East Timor's 24-year liberation struggle against Indonesia who is leading the demonstration.
"We want the Alkatiri Government to step down and for Fretilin to choose another." However, Fretilin's central committee held an extraordinary meeting yesterday morning and made it clear that Mr Alkatiri's position was non-negotiable.
East Timor's parliamentary Speaker and Fretilin's president, Francisco Guterres-Lu Olo, said in a communique that the party rejected "the profoundly political and pre-insurrectional demonstration organised by the church hierarchy".
The United Nations and the US embassy have issued warnings to staff that there could be trouble.
Catholic leaders have taken an increasingly militant stand against the Government since it withdrew support for religious instruction in primary schools this year.
But its leaders have struck a popular chord in opposing a deal made with Indonesia by President Xanana Gusmao and Mr Alkatiri that paves the way for pardons for war crimes committed in 1999 by departing Indonesian soldiers and their Timorese allies.
A statement on April 9 by the bishops of Dili and Baucau said impunity for war criminals was a matter of grave concern.
They said the people of East Timor could not "condone impunity for crimes against humanity".