East Timor declares emergency, troops arrive following attack on president

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AP Photo EKW108, EKW107, SYD801, DIL101, GFX353

AP Graphic EAST TIMOR

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH

Associated Press Writer

DILI, East Timor (AP) -- Armored U.N. vehicles guarded East Timor's leaders Tuesday under a state of emergency declared after rebel soldiers critically wounded the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president and fired at the prime minister's convoy.

The army chief blamed the United Nations -- which oversees a 1,400-member international police force -- for failing to protect the country's two top leaders and demanded an outside investigation.

But the U.N. deputy head for East Timor said President Jose Ramos-Horta had wanted his security to be provided by national authorities.

Ramos-Horta was airlifted to an Australian hospital where surgeons said Tuesday he was "extremely lucky to be alive" after they operated for three hours to remove bullet fragments and repair chest wounds.

"His condition remains extremely serious but by the same token, stable," Dr. Len Notaros, the general manager of the Royal Darwin Hospital, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "The next few days will be the telling point."

East Timor, a poor Southeast Asian nation of 1 million people, won independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot. It has struggled to achieve stability since an outbreak of violence in 2006, when 37 people were killed in clashes between rival security forces.

East Timor's army commander, Taur Matan Ruak said he wanted to know how foreign forces had failed in their primary task of providing security.

"How is it possible that cars transporting armed people have entered the city ... without having been detected?" he asked journalists.

But Finn Reske-Nielsen, the U.N. deputy head for East Timor, said that Ramos-Horta wanted his own security "to be provided by national authorities and therefore there was no U.N. police protection" during Monday's attack.

Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for nonviolent resistance during 24 years of Indonesian occupation, was shot in the chest and stomach on the road in front of his house in an apparent coup attempt by a group of disgruntled soldiers.

His guards returned fire, killing wanted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado -- who was blamed for the 2006 violence and vowed publicly just two weeks ago to try again to destabilize the government.

Gunmen attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's motorcade an hour later, but he escaped unhurt.

The assassination attempts "occurred, in part because the rule of law remains weak," said John Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, a rights group. "Maj. Reinado, who was indicted for murder for his actions in 2006, should have been brought to justice long before this attack."

Acting President Vicente Gutterres announced the two-day emergency in an address on national television. The order bans demonstrations, gives police extended powers and calls for a nighttime curfew.

"Our country is right now in an extraordinary situation where a state of emergency will bring us back to normality," Gutterres said. "I ask for your help."

Australia's troop presence in the tiny country climbed to more than 1,000 on Tuesday, with the arrival of a Navy warship, which was moored off the coast in sight of the capital's harbor, and more than 300 police and soldiers.

Some patrolled the streets and searched cars at roadblocks in Dili, but the country was generally calm.

Reinado was among 600 mutinous soldiers dismissed by the government in 2006 -- a move that triggered widespread looting, arson and gang warfare that forced 155,000 out of their homes and the resignation of the country's first post-independence prime minister.

Reinado was arrested but escaped from prison after several months. He was charged with murder in connection with the unrest, but remained in hiding and threatened insurrection against the government -- a stance that made him popular among some disaffected East Timorese youth.

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Associated Press writers Rohan Sullivan in Canberra, Australia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.