East Timor's newly elected president Taur Matan Ruak has taken office as the half-island nation celebrates 10 years of independence from Indonesia. Ruak succeeds former president and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta.
New East Timorese President Taur Matan Ruak has urged the nation's population of only 1.1 million, who were administered under UN mandate from 1999, that they faced "sweat and hard work" to emerge from poverty and high unemployment. Many Timorese had arrived on foot to watch his inauguration ceremony near Dili on Saturday.
In a runoff poll a month ago, 55-year-old Ruak got 61 percent of the vote, defeating his challenger Francisco Guterres of the left-wing Fretilin party who garnered nearly 39 percent. Outgoing president Ramos-Horta lost his bid for a second five-year term by ending up in third place during the first round on March 17.
Parliamentary elections are due on July 7, when 25 political parties are expected to bid for seats in the 65-strong parliament.
Brutal route to independence
East Timor first declared independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975 but was promptly invaded by neighboring Indonesia. A 24-year occupation followed, leaving up to 183,000 people dead from fighting, disease and starvation before a UN-supervised referendum in 1999.
Timorese voted for independence but the Indonesian military and anti-independence militias rampaged, killing more than 1,000 people, before an Australian-led force intervened. The UN mission UNMIT remains in place in the wake of internal unrest in 2006 and 2007 that involved mutinous soldiers.
Ruak former mountain fighter
Ruak, a former guerrilla leader and ex-army chief who spent decades in the mountains fighting Indonesian forces, told Timorese at his inauguration ceremony on Saturday that "our history is a narrative of struggles and hard work."
He called for a "diversification" of East Timor's economy, saying dependency on oil and gas extraction and aid from abroad must be reduced. On winning last month, Ruak had said his greatest problem was "how are we going to integrate our young people?"
Unemployment is chronic at more than 20 percent and outside Dili infrastructure is limited to a few paved roads, a single port and a tiny airport. East Timor has no currency and uses the US dollar for transactions.
Recent seabed discoveries of oil and natural gas account for 90 percent of current government revenues but a local non-governmental organization, La'o Hamutuk, says those geological reserves are limited and East Timor should not depend on them.
Invited to Sunday's 10th anniversary independence celebrations in Dili are Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yuhoyono, Australia's Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva.
ipj/ng (AFP, dpa, epd)