November 7, 2018 / 9:03 AM / 11 days ago

East Timor president slams parliament for blocking trip to meet pope

JAKARTA (Reuters) - East Timor’s ruling coalition in parliament has voted to block a planned trip by President Francisco Guterres to the Vatican, where he was due to meet Pope Francis, saying the president must first break a political deadlock at home.

The predominantly Roman Catholic nation has struggled to achieve stable government, and the stalemate has persisted since Guterres rejected some ministers proposed by Prime Minister Jose Maria de Vasconcelos after May elections over graft inquiries.

In a statement on Wednesday, Guterres said he deeply regretted this week’s vote by the ruling Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) coalition in parliament “blocking this excellent opportunity”.

The AMP won 34 of the 65 seats up for grabs in May’s parliamentary election, the fifth since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The AMP coalition includes the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao. Guterres is from the opposition Fretilin party.

“I was greatly honored and proud to receive news that the Vatican State had approved my request for an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis,” Guterres said, adding that the meeting had been set for November 23.

Guterres said that parliament’s vote had prevented him from personally inviting Pope Francis to visit the country in 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of a visit by Pope John Paul II and also the 20th anniversary of its independence referendum.

“The visit of the Pope in 1989 drew international attention to the suffering of the people of Timor Leste (East Timor) and brought more support to our national liberation struggle,” said Guterres.

Asia’s youngest democracy, which became independent from Indonesia in 2002, has struggled to alleviate poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources.

Arao Noe, the president of parliament, said by telephone the rejection decision was taken because the appointment of cabinet ministers had been delayed by more than four months.

As well as visiting the Vatican, the president had also sought approval from parliament for a state visit to former colonial ruler Portugal, the United Nations and Indonesia before the end of the year.

Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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