Profile: Mari Alkatiri

Few East Timorese knew Mari Alkatiri before he became prime minister, and his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy for the people have made him unpopular since.

    Alkatiri has been criticised for his rigid ruling style

    Alkatiri, a long-time exile who spent much of Indonesia's often  brutal 24-year rule living in relative comfort in Mozambique, used his political savvy to claw his way up to lead the nation.

    Much of his unpopularity stems from his out-of-touch style and a perception that he lacks empathy for the hardships the East Timorese endured under Indonesian occupation.

    He is also a Muslim and has Arab Yemeni origins in a Roman Catholic country where local ties and former colonial power Portugal remain major influences.

    Fernando Alves, a doctor who said that Alkatiri had not dealt with the violence which engulfed the tiny country last month, said: "He still thinks it's 1975! He doesn't understand Timor has changed since then."

    - Born in Dili, in November 1949, to Yemeni settlers

    - Joined Movement for the Liberation of East Timor in 1970 when still a Portuguese colony


    Qualified as a surveying graduate in Angola, then studied law and economics in Mozambique


    Launched political career when appointed politics minister by Fretilin shortly before Indonesia's 1975 invasion


    Left East Timor days later but stayed influential in the party


    Status within the party, combined with Gusmao's refusal to run as party candidate in elections after independence in 2002, saw him rise to prime minister

    While Xanana Gusmao, the president, is revered as a national hero for leading East Timor's guerrillas against the Indonesians, Alkatiri was virtually unknown to the population when he was elected by the ruling Fretilin party to the prime minister's post in 2002.

    Australian-based political analyst Bob Lowry said: "If he had contested direct elections, he never would have been elected as prime minister."

    Alkatiri has been criticised for his rigid ruling style and his tendency to blame others for the country's woes.

    "His political style is a mixture of post-Marxist Mozambique  combined with Suharto's Golkar," said Joao Cancio Freitas, director of the Dili Institute of Technology, referring to the party of Indonesia's former president.

    Dili resident Umvelina said of him: "He's very arrogant. He seems like he does not care about the problems of the people."

    When thousands of residents first fled from the capital after a violent demonstration on April 28, Alkatiri described the exodus dismissively as people going on a "picnic".

    Some say the 56-year-old's tough bargaining style has allowed him to negotiate successfully with neighbour Australia over the Timor Gap oil and gas fields.

    "I wouldn't portray him as an evil demon. I think he has done some good things, such as the Timor Sea Gap" negotiations, said Lowry.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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