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E. Timor President Shot; Aust. Ups Peacekeepers

By Heda Bayron
Hong Kong

East Timor's President Shot; Australia Sends More Peacekeepers

East Timor's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, is in serious condition hours after a daring assassination attempt that shocked his tiny Southeast Asian nation. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports, security has been tightened throughout the country and Australia is sending more peacekeepers.

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta is seen on a stretcher as he is transfered from an ambulance to the Royal Darwin Hospital Emergency Department after arrival in Darwin, 11 Feb 2008.

President Ramos-Horta was airlifted to the northern Australian city of Darwin Monday for emergency medical treatment after rebel soldiers shot him in the stomach during an early morning attack at his residence.

Doctors in Darwin say the president is in an induced coma and on a ventilator. But they say his condition is stable.

Gunmen also shot at a vehicle carrying Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. He escaped unhurt. In a news conference, Mr. Gusmao promised to restore security to the troubled nation. He said the government will not tolerate any armed groups attempting a coup.

The assassination attempts shocked the fledgling nation and some residents feared violence would break out again. The United Nations spokeswoman in East Timor, Alison Cooper, says the security situation has so far been stable.

"The atmosphere is tense but there have not been any major incidents reported after this morning's shooting," said Cooper.

The leader of the coordinated assassination attempts, Alfredo Reinado, was killed during the shootout. The fugitive former military police chief has been blamed for being behind deadly fighting between rebel troops and police in 2006. That violence drove thousands of people from their homes and prompted intervention by peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says his country will send additional military and police to reinforce its 800-strong contingent to the International Stabilization Force.

"Australia will stand resolutely behind East Timor at this time of crisis in their democracy. The International Stabilization Force have already secured key buildings and deployed more broadly throughout Dili and increased their presence through East Timor's districts," said Mr. Rudd. "The security situation is currently assessed as stable but this could change quickly as events unfold."

New Zealand says it has also put additional troops on standby.

Mr. Ramos-Horta was a prominent figure in the campaign against Indonesian rule, which ended with a violence-marred vote for independence in 1999. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.


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