Chaos in East Timor, President Assumes Emergency Powers
After all of the jubilation in Montenegro last week, one might forget that starting a new country from scratch can be risky business. This week, the breakdown of order in the world's second youngest nation showed us just how hard it can be. After years of Portuguese colonization and then a brutal takeover by Indonesia in 1975, East Timor finally took it's destiny into it's own hands in 2002. It entered the world as the poorest nation on the planet (based on GDP per capita), and it remains so today.
The chaos started in April, when 40% of the East Timorese army (600 soldiers) went AWOL because the government seemed to be granting promotions only to soldiers from the eastern part of the country. The government responded by officially kicking the deseters out of the army, causing riots to erupt in the capital city of Dili. Local gangs took advantage of the riots and Dili disintegrated into a giant gang war.
Today, President Xanana Gusmao (who normally plays a largely ceremonial role) declared a state of emergency and took direct control of security forces and the Interior Ministry. This is a drastic move and would be seen as the first step toward dictatorship in many countries. Luckily, Gusmao doesn't seem like the power-hungry type. He usually does his best to stay out of day-to-day politics and has refused cave in to demands that he fire the democratically elected Prime Minister (who is very unpopular). However, this incident does go to show just how fragile democracy can be, especially in an infant nation like East Timor.