East Timor church talks collapse

Dili, East Timor - EAST Timor's powerful Catholic church said it had slammed the door on possible negotiations with the government after seven days of clergy-led protests calling for the country's prime minister to resign.

The vice bishop of Dili, Apolinario Guterres, told reporters that discussions had failed to meet the demands of demonstrators who have gathered in their thousands outside government buildings.

The protests have been held in anger at the Fretilin party-led government's proposal to scrap compulsory religious education in schools, but reflect a growing rift between the church and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's leadership.

The church has also expressed outrage over Dili's move to drop trials over atrocities committed by Jakarta-backed militias during a 1999 plebiscite which saw East Timor emerge from a quarter of a century of Indonesian occupation.

"People do not trust the government. Right now the church is only willing to open a dialogue with the parliament and Fretilin," Mr Guterres said.

A government spokesman said talks with the church had failed because demands for the removal of the prime minister ran contrary to the constitution of East Timor, which gained full independence just three years ago.

About 96 per cent of East Timor's 800,000 people are Roman Catholic.

The former Portuguese colony also has Muslim and Protestant minorities.