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East Timor hero Gusmao returns to power as prime minister

DILI, EAST TIMOR (AP) – Former East Timor independence fighter Xanana Gusmao was sworn in yesterday as prime minister of Asia’s youngest country after his party won the parliamentary election in May.

Crowd cheered as the former guerrilla leader traveled to the presidential palace in Dili, the capital, where he and his members of Cabinet were sworn into office by President Jose Ramos-Horta, his fellow independence fighter.

The new government is a coalition between Gusmao’s National Congress of the Reconstruction of East Timor, known as CNRT, and the Democratic Party.

Gusmao, 77, became the nation’s first president between 2002 and 2007, and served as prime minister between 2007 and 2015.

In the May election, his party won 41 per cent of the vote to capture 31 out of 65 seats in the National Parliament. That is just short of the 33 needed for an outright majority, and Gusmao agreed to form a government with the Democratic Party, which won six seats.

Gusmao faces an uphill battle in tackling economic challenges as nearly 42 per cent of the country’s estimated 1.5 million people live below the poverty line.

Gusmao vowed to reduce poverty through his government’s strategic development plan and reiterated the importance of national reconciliation and unity to achieve the development goals.

“I promise to carry out the tasks that the people have entrusted to me and to bring prosperity to the Timorese people through government programmes,” Gusmao said at the swearing-in ceremony.

New East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. PHOTO: AP