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Accord does not preclude future protest: church leader

Lusa - June 16, 2005

Lisbon – A leader of East Timor's Roman Catholics warned Thursday that although the recent dispute between his powerful church and the Dili government is resolved, "nothing is definitive in these types of misunderstandings and conflicts".

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, speaking after a private meeting with President Jorge Sampaio in Lisbon, said that the joint declaration signed by Catholic leaders, including himself, with the Timorese government might not be applicable in future disputes between state and church.

The accord signed April 19 brought to a halt nearly three weeks of demonstrations in Dili by church supporters against the government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Initially centered on church opposition to a government pilot scheme to demote the status of religious teaching in state schools, the protests also widened to include demands for the criminalization of abortion and prostitution.

Under the joint declaration signed between the church and government, it was agreed that abortion, in most cases, and prostitution would be made crimes in Timor's draft penal code.

Bishop Nascimento, making a private visit to Portugal, also said that a third diocese, after Dili and his own, could be created within two to three years in Timor. The new bishopric is expected to be in Same in the south of Timor, he said.