Opposition party member sworn in as premier of East Timor

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2015 8:31 AM
Opposition party member sworn in as premier of East Timor

DILI, East Timor (AP) — Opposition party member Rui Maria de Araujo was sworn in Monday as East Timor's prime minister, leading a smaller 38-member Cabinet for the half-island nation.

The 50-year-old former health minister took the oath of office along with 37 Cabinet ministers in a ceremony presided over by President Taur Matan Ruak at the Lahane palace on the outskirts of the capital Dili.

Araujo replaced former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao, who resigned early this month to allow a new generation to take power. Gusmao remains in the government, becoming minister of planning and strategic investment.

"Today marks a new history of democracy in this country," Araujo said in his inaugural speech.

"Our past has come to save our future, because our predecessor, the father of country, gave us, the new generation, a great responsibility," he added, referring to Gusmao.

Araujo joined the opposition Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor party, or Fretilin in 2010. He was nominated for the premiership by Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, which holds 30 seats in the 65-member assembly.

The country's sixth constitutional government has 37 ministers under Araujo, a significant reduction from 55 in the last government.

Araujo described his government as a unity of wishes, experiences, talents and qualification above political competition that commonly happen in democratic countries.

Gusmao, 68, spearheaded East Timor's drive for independence and was the first president of the new nation until he became prime minister in 2007.

East Timor, a Portuguese colony for more than three centuries, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. It voted overwhelmingly in a U.N.-backed referendum in 1999 to end the brutal occupation that left more than 170,000 dead, and became a sovereign state on May 20, 2002.

However, the country has been struggling to develop economically and about half of its 1.2 million people live in poverty.

Araujo graduated as a medical doctor in 1994 at Udayana University in Bali, where he had opportunities to support the resistance struggle and worked as special Bali liaison for Gusmao, then commander in chief.

While working at the provincial hospital in Dili, he quietly provided medical assistance to guerrilla fighters in the jungle before going on study in New Zealand where he gained a master's degree in public health in 2001.

He was appointed by Fretilin as health minister in the first government and then deputy prime minister of social affairs later in 2006. He was senior adviser in the health and finance ministries since 2007.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this story.