E Timor rally for school religion

Dili, East Timor - Thousands of protesters have rallied in East Timor to demand compulsory religious education in schools.

As many as 3,000 people responded to a call from priests to gather outside government offices in the capital Dili.

About 96% of East Timor's 800,000 people are Roman Catholic. It also has Muslim and Protestant minorities.

The government decided in February that there should be no compulsory religious education in schools - though students could study it if they wished.

"We want the government to introduce classes on Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam for students in public schools," said Domingos Maubere, spokesman for the Dili Catholic diocese.

"We will continue to protest until the government agrees to have a dialogue on our request."

Some of the demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Placards read: "Fight against the Alkatiri regime."


The prime minister remained in his office during the peaceful protest.

He issued a statement saying the government wanted to open talks with the church, but "this demonstration today does not help to create conditions for dialogue".

The dispute is the latest in a series of arguments between the government and the church.

Earlier this year East Timor's Catholic bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva expressed dismay that the Timorese and Indonesian governments had agreed to drop trials over atrocities committed while the state was gaining its independence from Indonesia.

The church played a major role in pushing for the country's independence.