ETimor President extends emergency powers, warns of possible early elections

DILI, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – East Timor’s President Xanana Gusmao extended his emergency powers Tuesday and warned of possible early elections to try to end the crisis in the impoverished nation.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned Monday after weeks of civil and political unrest that has left at least 21 dead and forced nearly 150,000 from their homes.

Gusmao, hunkered down with the State Council, an advisory group, about how to choose the next premier. He will extend his sole control of the army for another 30 days "to respond to the current crisis", his office said in a statement.

The emergency powers were first imposed at the end of May amid violence between police and army factions. The statement said a further extension could be necessary.

It also warned of early elections if a suitable replacement for Alkatiri could not be found even though Gusmao was taking "immediate steps" to form a new government.

"If even so it becomes impossible to form a government the President of the Republic will consider a dissolution of the parliament to allow for early general elections," it said.

Alkatiri finally resigned Monday after facing down demands to quit since late May, when fighting between rival security force factions degenerated into gang violence in the capital Dili.

Alkatiri was blamed for sparking weeks of unrest by sacking in March some 600 deserting soldiers — or nearly half of the military — who had complained about discrimination.

More than 2,200 foreign peacekeepers, mostly from Australia, were deployed to restore order.