East Timor police fire tear gas during student protests

DILI (Reuters) - Hundreds of students in East Timor clashed on Monday with police who fired tear gas to disperse the crowds protesting against alleged government corruption.

Members of parliament were forced to suspend a planned auction of government cars after protesters took to the streets and threw rocks at police officers and public vehicles, alleging the cars were being deliberately marked down and would cause state losses.

“We are doing this because we are not satisfied that members of parliament are taking such decisions to their own benefit,” said Duarte Antonio Nunes from a student organization. He added that more demonstrations could take place if the auctions were not called off.

Several police officers were injured in scuffles and several protesters detained, officials said, and loud speakers and other equipment were confiscated from the students.

But Aderito Hugo, president of the national parliament, said after the demonstrations that the auction had been “temporarily suspended”.

“I ask for the public’s patience on we can review procedures on the use of the cars,” Hugo told a local radio station.

East Timor is the poorest nation in Southeast Asia despite being rich in natural resources, and tensions have simmered in the young democracy over income inequality and high unemployment.

Legislative and presidential elections this year were peaceful and were the first since a United Nations peacekeeping force left at the end of 2012 following bouts of violence since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The polls were dominated by concerns over government’s perceived failure to capitalize on those resources, and create jobs and wealth.

The leading parties, Fretilin and CNRT, secured a combined 58 percent of votes in last month’s election and are expected to form a government in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Nelson Da Cruz; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Toby Chopra