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Xanana Gusmao looks set for return as premier in East Timor

Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmão returns to power after his party won the parliamentary election.

Published: May 26, 2023 10:50 AM GMT

Updated: May 26, 2023 10:51 AM GMT

The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction or CNRT of Xanana Gusmão has won the parliamentary election, boosting chances of his return as premier in the Catholic-majority nation. 

Observers say the CNRT's victory is a sign of voters’ disappointment with the ruling party. However, Gusmão faces an uphill battle in tackling socioeconomic challenges as nearly 42 percent of the nation's estimated 1.5 million people live below the poverty line and many in the former Portuguese colony are illiterate.

Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader, was Timor-Leste's first president, serving from 2002 to 2007. He became the fourth prime minister in 2007, holding office till 2015. He is a key supporter of current President Jose Ramos-Horta who was elected last year.

The official election results will be announced on June 7 and new members of parliament will be sworn in on June 12. The CNRT won 288,101 votes or 41.62 percent of those polled in the May 21 elections and is entitled to 31 of the 65 parliamentary seats against its current tally of 10 seats.

Xanana Gusmao

Xanana Gusmao (Photo: supplied/CNRT)

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A group of Christians in violence-hit Manipur state in northeast India are facing threats for refusing to abandon their faith to become Hindus. This came as security was beefed up in the state amid fresh violence between tribal groups this week.

A senior church official said tension continues as Meitei people are forcing Christians among them to recant their faith. The Meitei community forms 53 percent of the state's 3.2 million people. They are mostly Hindus, but a tiny minority of them is Christian, mostly Protestants.

A girl evacuated by the Indian army during the ethnic riots in Manipur state embraces her mother (second right) after reuniting at a temporary shelter at the Leimakhong Army Cantonment in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 10. (Photo: AFP)

A riot broke out between the Meitei and tribal Kuki group on May 3, leaving at least 70 killed, 231 injured, and damaged 1,700 houses. About 45,000 people have been displaced.

The riot began when Kuki and other tribal people, most of them Christian, protested a plan to list Meitei people in the Scheduled Tribe category to allow them to get special benefits under India’s affirmative action program.

Catholic Church in Myanmar has appealed to international aid agencies for humanitarian assistance for people hit by Cyclone Mocha. Father Nereus Tun Min, director of the Catholic charity Karuna Pyay, said people badly need support to survive and rebuild their lives in the worst-hit areas in Rakhine, Chin, and Mandalay regions.

The United Nations has appealed for 333 million US dollars to assist 1.6 million vulnerable people in Myanmar, many of whom have lost their homes. A few private donors and religious groups are already helping affected communities.

People queue for drinking water at a distribution point in Sittwe on May 17, 2023, in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha's landfall. Villagers are trying to piece together ruined homes and waiting for aid and support. (Photo: AFP)

The Jesuits have provided more than a thousand roofs in Rakhine, while a private donor chipped in with cash which was distributed among 20 Buddhist and Catholic families in the port city of Sittwe, the hardest-hit town in Rakhine state.

Besides massive destruction, the cyclone killed many people. The official death toll is 145 while the exiled National Unity Government claimed the figure could be as high as 455.

Christians and a rights body have called for justice and peace in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts after recent violence killed at least four people and displaced hundreds in the restive region. A laborer was killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Bandarban district on Tuesday.

Earlier, on May 17, a member of the largely Christian Tripura ethnic minority was killed and another injured in a bomb blast in the Salopipara area of the same district. Bangladesh military claimed two soldiers were killed and two injured in a bomb blast and shooting by the Kuki-Chin National Front  or KNF insurgent group on May 16.

Members of the Greater Chittagong Hill Tracts Hill Students Council shout slogans, displaying a banner and placards as they march during a demonstration in Dhaka on Aug. 31, 2003, to protest against the military presence and to demand political autonomy in their native hills in southeastern Bangladesh. (Photo: AFP)

The new wave of violence came after eight ethnic Christians were killed in an alleged shootout between the KNF and another tribal insurgent group in April. The killing forced hundreds of villagers to flee their houses. Jonathan Tripura, a pastor of a local Baptist Church said the violence has forced more villagers to flee the area.

The rights group, the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, expressed concern over the ongoing unrest and called for the protection of civilians in the region.

Cambodia has charged a fourth person for allegedly plotting a ‘peasant revolution’ aimed at overthrowing the government.

Chan Vibol, an independent researcher, was charged after he took part in a workshop run by the land rights group, Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, in the northeast province of Ratanakkiri. He was charged on Tuesday and faces a jail sentence of five to 10 years in convicted.

US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy (center) addresses media persons in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court following the verdict in the trial of Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on March 3. Western embassies have been critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent and the prosecution of leaders and supporters from opposition political parties. (Photo: AFP)

A state prosecutor alleged that the workshop was a “secret gathering which discussed political issues to cause incitement in farmers to rise up and cause turmoil in society, leading to the overthrow of the government.” Another government official compared the meeting to a Pol Pot-styled insurrection.

Human rights groups deplored the charges as “bogus” and condemned the state’s attempts to silence critics ahead of elections in July. The National Election Commission has already disqualified major opposition parties, paving the way for authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen to win by a landslide. 

A row between immigrant Muslims and non-Muslim Koreans in Daegu of South Korea over the construction of a mosque has worsened. The construction of the mosque near Kyungpook National University remains suspended amid protests from local residents since 2020.

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Protesters say a place of worship is not suitable for a residential area. The mosque plan came as the university has seen a rise in the admission of Muslim students in recent years.

Anti-immigration activists attend a protest against a group of asylum-seekers from Yemen, in Seoul on June 30, 2018. (Photo:AFP via Getty Images)

The protesters have collected signatures to resist the mosque and filed a complaint for a court injunction. The local government issued an administrative order to halt the construction. The order was overturned with a court ruling, and construction resumed.

The conflict intensified in recent weeks as the opponents hung a series of banners in the area against the mosque's construction. Media reports say unknown people left the heads of pigs in front of a prayer center, causing dismay among Muslims.

China’s communist government launched an online database and verification system for Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant clerics on Tuesday. The system stores vital information on the clergy including name, gender, photos, religious title, religious denomination, and registration number.

A similar database was launched for Buddhist and Taoist clergy in February. The government says the database is the official register of religious figures. It can be accessed by citizens to verify the identity and position of the registered individuals.

The Chinese government has launched an online database for clerics of organized religions. (Photo: AFP) 

The authorities claim the system seeks to tackle acts of fraudulence by ‘fake clerics’ as several such cases have been reported recently.

Rights groups, however, alleged that the new database is just another tool for the communist regime to assert more control over religions in a country with notorious records of violation of religious freedom and human rights.  

A Catholic activist in Vietnam has been imprisoned allegedly for anti-state activities. Peter Bui Tuan Lam was sentenced to five and six months in jail for making and spreading materials against the Communist government by a court in Da Nang.

Lam was also given four years of probation following his sentence. The 39-year-old Lam was convicted of posting 19 writings and 25 video clips with contents intended to defame the state.

Peter Bui Tuan Lam (wearing a rosary) and other activists pose for a photo session before his arrest in 2022. (Photo: Le Thanh Lam)

Lam who ran a beef noodle shop in the central city of Da Nang, imitated a video of famed Turkish chef Nusret Gokce or "Salt Bae" feeding a gold leaf encrusted steak to Vietnam’s public security minister To Lam at his London restaurant. The video sparked outrage in the country.

Human rights and democracy activist Le Quoc Quan said Lam was sentenced for a clip lampooning a powerful security official through the satirical video. Lam’s videos showed he was concerned about people’s poverty and unfair treatment and officials’ power abuse and corruption.

Church leaders and advocacy groups have opposed Indonesia’s plan to set up additional military posts across all provinces in the Southeast nation.

The move is seen as part of the authorities’ efforts to enhance the military's role in civilian life. Gufron Mabruri, director of the Imparsial Research and Advocacy Institute, said that there is no compelling reason to build provincial-level commands as there is no serious threat to national security.

Papuans hold a rally before the parliament office to oppose the addition of more troops to their region in West Papua province in April 2023. (Photo supplied)

Despite criticism, Indonesia’s defense ministry is moving ahead with its plan to add regional military commands in 38 provinces. Currently, the country has 15 regional military commands in all 38 provinces, including two formations that cater to four new provinces in Papua and West Papua.

Indonesia is ranked 16th in the world's military power scene. Augustinian priest Father Bernard Baru, a rights activist in the Christian-majority Papua region, noted that the move is part of a threat to normal life in the strife-torn region and people will be more uncomfortable with increased military presence.

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