Australia answers East Timor's plea for help

Other News Materials 12 February 2008 04:47 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa )- A fresh wave of Australian troops headed Tuesday for East Timor as doctors in a Darwin hospital voiced optimism for President Jose Ramos-Horta to fully recover from gunshots suffered in what Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao called a "coup attempt against the state."

Ramos-Horta underwent three hours of surgery Monday after being flown from the East Timor capital Dili to the far-north Australian city of Darwin.

"I expect that he's quite resilient, and I expect that recovery would be a full recovery," Royal Darwin Hospital head Len Notaris told Australia's ABC Radio. "If he needed to breathe by himself, at this stage he would be capable of doing that."

Ramos-Horta suffered at least two bullet wounds in the attack and needed a transfusion of eight litres of blood before his medical evacuation to Darwin.

Gusmao, whose car came under fire in a two-pronged assassination attempt in which rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado was killed, sustained only a graze wound on his hand.

"I consider this a coup attempt against the state by Reinado," Gusmao told reporters in Dili. "This government won't fall because of this."

After taking telephone calls from Gusmao, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ordered 190 soldiers and police to bolster Australia's security presence in East Timor to a force of almost 1,000.

Rudd confirmed reports from Dili that the city was calm and that the feared backlash by Reinado supporters had not transpired.

"This is an extraordinary assault on East Timor's democracy, this attempted assassination of effectively the entire political leadership of our neighbouring new democracy," Rudd said. "That's why the (Australian) government has acted quickly to respond."

Rudd will visit Dili by the end of the week.

Gusmao, who switched jobs with Ramos-Horta after elections in May, declared a state of emergency and curfew.

Ramos-Horta, 58, shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with compatriot Bishop Carlos Belo for leading the diplomatic campaign for freedom.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, continuing the occupation until 1999, when Australia led an international force that helped guide East Timor to full independence in 2002.