DILI, East Timor (AP) — East Timor's president on Monday accepted the resignation of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as prime minister ahead of an expected restructuring of the government that would make it more inclusive.
The former guerrilla leader spearheaded East Timor's drive for independence when Indonesian rule ended in 2002. He was the first president of the half-island nation until he became prime minister in 2007.
Gusmao, 68, submitted his resignation to President Taur Matan Ruak on Friday. It has already been accepted by the ruling three-party coalition.
Gusmao, who reportedly stepped aside to allow a new generation of leaders to take power, has not ruled out staying in the government in a different role.
East Timor voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that left more than 170,000 dead, but the country has struggled to develop economically and about half of its 1.2 million people live in poverty.
The presidential office said Taur Matan Ruak accepted the resignation, which officially triggers the government's resignation. It said the president has begun forming a new government and it should be finished by the end of this week.
A new prime minister has not been selected, but a ruling coalition official said Gusmao has nominated Rui Araujo, a former health minister.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the Cabinet is expected to be reduced in size from 55 to 34 ministers and would become more inclusive, with opposition members among those appointed.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony until it declared independence in late 1975. It was then invaded and occupied by Indonesia until a U.N.-backed referendum in 1999 led to it becoming a sovereign state on May 20, 2002.