East Timor's president in serious but stable condition after assassination attempt

Eds: SUBS last graf to update with Security Council statement.

AP Photo DIL108, DIL103, JAK105



Associated Press Writer

DILI, East Timor (AP) -- East Timor's president was in "extremely serious" but stable condition at an Australian hospital Tuesday after surgeons worked through the night to remove bullet fragments he suffered in a failed coup attempt, the hospital's administrator said.

Dr. Len Notaros, the general manager of the Royal Darwin Hospital, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Tuesday morning that surgeons operated on President Jose Ramos-Horta for three hours overnight to remove the fragments and repair his wounds.

"His condition remains extremely serious but by the same token, stable," Notaros said. "The next few days will be the telling point."

Ramos-Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to the decades-long Indonesian occupation, was shot in the chest and stomach by gunmen in two cars around dawn Monday, officials said.

Rebel soldiers separately attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's motorcade an hour later. He escaped unhurt.

The strikes against the two independence icons were a striking reminder of the bitter rivalries beneath the surface in Asia's newest nation and could trigger more unrest and political turmoil.

The country's top fugitive, Alfredo Reinado, and one of his men were killed in the attack on the president. One of the president's guards also died.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who led a council mission to East Timor, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the president was shot as he took his regular morning walk.

"One report is that they went to the house looking for him and discovered that he was on his walk and that's where they attacked him," Kumalo said. "He's a very simple man ... a man of the people and sometimes you pay a price for that."

Ramos-Horta, 58, first underwent surgery at an Australian army hospital in East Timor before being sedated, attached to a ventilator and airlifted to the hospital in the northern Australian city of Darwin.

Notaros said Ramos-Horta's wounds indicated he had been shot two or three times. The most serious wound was to his the lower part of his right lung near his liver, and would likely require more surgery. There was also a risk of sepsis infection, Notaros said.

The fragments will be handed to Australia Federal Police for the investigation into the shooting, Notaros said. At least one fragment was being left in his body, and was not thought to be threatening, he said.

Gusmao called the attacks a well-planned operation intended to "paralyze the government and create instability."

"I consider this incident a coup attempt against the state by Reinado and it failed," Gusmao said. "This government won't fall because of this."

Reinado was among 600 mutinous soldiers dismissed by the government in 2006 -- a move that triggered gunbattles between security forces that later spilled over into gang fighting and ethnic unrest.

At least 37 people were killed and more than 150,000 people forced from their homes in the unrest, which also led to 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 2006 violence, but had remained in hiding and had threatened armed insurrection against the government.

Despite the outstanding charges, Ramos-Horta had met with Reinado on several occasions in recent months to try to persuade him to surrender.

Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic and expert on East Timor, predicted the slain rebel leader's supporters might stage demonstrations, but said the heavy presence of international soldiers and police should be sufficient to maintain order.

The streets of Dili were calm after the attacks, and Gusmao said an overnight curfew was in place. The United Nations, which controls security in the country, said checkpoints had been set up on main roads.

"I appeal for Reinado's supporters to remain calm and reflect on his death," Gusmao said in a televised address to the nation. "This is not the time for people to kill each other."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried the "brutal and unspeakable attack" on Ramos-Horta. The Security Council in a statement Monday called on the nation's people to remain calm and for its government "to bring those responsible for this heinous act" to justice.


Associated Press reporters Rohan Sullivan in Canberra, Australia, Chris Brummitt in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.