February 11, 2008 / 12:46 AM / 11 years ago

East Timor president serious but stable

CANBERRA (Reuters) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta was in a serious but stable condition on Tuesday in an Australian hospital, but medics were planning more surgery for up to three gunshot wounds, a senior doctor said.

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta speaks to Reuters at his office in Dili in this June 29, 2007 file photo. Ramos-Horta was shot and critically wounded at his home in Dili on Monday in an assassination attempt by rebel soldiers that analysts said could spark renewed violence and political chaos in the tiny nation. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Ramos-Horta was critically wounded at his home in Dili on Monday in an assassination attempt by rebel soldiers and was airlifted to Darwin on life support and in an induced medical coma after treatment at an Australian military hospital.

“We’ll have to go back to theatre, probably in the next 24 to 36 hours for some staged surgery, but at this stage we’re looking at quite stable,” Dr. Len Notaras, general manager of Royal Darwin Hospital, told local radio.

“The president’s injuries are serious injuries.”

Notaras said the Nobel peace prize winner was on a ventilator to assist his breathing and his most serious injury was a bullet wound in his right lung. Ramos-Horta also had a small bullet fragment still in his body that posed no threat.

“His condition is quite good from the perspective that if he needed to breath by himself, he would be capable of doing that,” Notaras said.

Around 200 fast reaction troops from Australia and more police will arrive in Dili on Tuesday to back up international forces who put the capital under a 48-hour curfew after the attack, in which rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed.

An Australian warship was also expected off the coast.

The former Portuguese colony of almost 1 million people gained full independence in 2002 after a U.N. sponsored vote in 1999, marred by violence, ended more than two decades of brutal Indonesian occupation.

But East Timor has been unable to achieve stability. The army tore apart along regional lines in 2006 and factional bloodshed killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes, with foreign troops needed to restore order.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who will fly to Dili this week after a request from his East Timor counterpart Xanana Gusmao, said the capital was calm on Tuesday morning, with security forces braced for unrest and in control of the streets.

“The government of East Timor is in firm control,” Rudd told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Rudd said a decision on whether international troops would begin a hunt for the rebels involved in the attack would be taken later by operational commanders.

Reports in Dili and Australia said Ramos-Horta was ambushed while returning from a morning jog and he suffered up to three bullet wounds in the attack.

United Nations forces were also accused of leaving the president to bleed on his bed for up to an hour before Portuguese paramilitary police arrived to transport him to care.

“I want to establish the facts first and then we’ll reach rapid judgments about how things can be done more effectively on the ground,” Rudd said.

Reporting by Rob Taylor, Editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Winfrey

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