Dili – President Xanana Gusmao condemned the East Timorese Catholic Church's continuing demonstrations against the government Thursday, saying he would not allow street protests to bring down Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's cabinet.
Gusmao, flanked by Alkatiri and Parliament Speaker Francisco Guterres, also told journalists he disapproved of the use of partisan symbols in a religious demonstration and of religious symbols in political protests.
Timor's Catholic hierarchy, he said, appeared to have "somewhat lost the objective" of the demonstrations in favor of required religion classes in public schools that began Tuesday.
"It's a citizen's right to demonstrate, but, if the demonstrations' objective is to bring down the government, I will not permit it", he said in comments at Dili airport before departing to Indonesia for the Asia-Africa Summit.
A change of government, he added, could only take place through elections and a cabinet reshuffle through the action of the governing party.
Organized by the influential Catholic Church, the demonstrations in Dili were mobilized around demands to keep religion classes as a required subject in public schools but quickly deepened into demands for the government's ouster.
The peaceful, around-the-clock protests, drawing crowds of as many as 3,000, have been led by priests and nuns, with the presence of images of the Virgin Mary and sessions of prayer and hymn singing.