East Timor PM shrugs off deputy's resignation

East Timor PM shrugs off deputy's resignation

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said today that the resignation of his deputy, whose party threatened to withdraw from the ruling coalition, will not lead to the collapse of East Timor's government.

Mr Gusmao's former deputy Mario Viejas Carrascalao said he had no choice but to quit this week after his boss called him a "liar" for openly questioning the country's commitment to fighting corruption and improving people's lives.

If Mr Carrascalao's Social Democratic Party pull outs of the government, Mr Gusmao's ruling coalition will lose its majority in Parliament by three seats, dealing another blow to the tiny country's political stability.

"This won't affect my government at all," Mr Gusmao said early this morning. "The government is still strong."

It was unclear whether Mr Gusmao was saying that he expected remaining Social Democrats Party to stay, or whether he was confident that other politicians could be recruited to join his coalition if they withdraw.

East Timor, which broke from 24 years of Indonesian occupation in 1999 and was then briefly administered by the United Nations, has faced political turmoil and violence since declaring independence in 2002.

The half-island nation in the Pacific, with a population of one million, is still one of the poorest in the region, even though it benefited from large offshore oil and gas resources.

Mr Gusmao said he has accepted Mr Carrascalao's resignation as one of two deputy prime ministers and will not seek a replacement.

Members of the Social Democratic Party, among four parties in the ruling coalition, hinted they could withdraw from the government as early as next week.

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