Presidency in doubt as East Timor leaders quit

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The Independent Online

The charismatic East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao withdrew his resignation from the biggest pro-independence group yesterday, amid confusion as to whether he will become the territory's first president.

The charismatic East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao withdrew his resignation from the biggest pro-independence group yesterday, amid confusion as to whether he will become the territory's first president.

A spokeswoman for Mr Gusmao said delegates at a congress of his National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) had unanimously refused to accept his resignation.

Mr Gusmao and his deputy, Jose Ramos-Horta, told the congress earlier yesterday that they were quitting their posts to make way for new blood.

The move had been seen as a strong indication that Mr Gusmao would refuse the presidency. He has said he does not want the job, but had been expected to be drafted into the position as the only acceptable candidate. The spokeswoman said: "The delegates said: 'If you don't lead us, how can we go back to the people in the streets and tell them... we would be hanged.' It was an overwhelming outburst."

East Timor is under United Nations control after voting last year to end Indonesia's often brutal rule of more than 23 years. The UN said last month that elections in East Timor and possibly final independence could happen by the end of 2001.

Mr Gusmao, jailed by Indonesia for leading a rebellion against Jakarta's rule, had told the congress East Timor needed new faces and increased energy. He is seen as one of the few figures capable of uniting various political factions and community groups.

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