Church versus state row settled in East Timor

Sydney, Australia - Three weeks of protests in the East Timor capital against Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s policy of separating the church and the state came to an end Monday with a compromise deal that allows religion to be taught in schools but attendance at classes to be optional.

As many as 10,000 people had attended protest meetings in Dili backing the stance of church leaders and calling on the Alkatiri government to stand down.

More than 95 per cent of East Timor’s 800,000 people are Catholics and the church had insisted that religious education be taught in schools. Alkatiri had insisted that the constitution adopted at independence three years ago was a secular one and that there should be no compulsory religious instruction in schools.

President Xanana Gusmao brokered a deal acceptable to both the Catholic church and Alkatiri’s government.

Before independence in 2002 East Timor had been an Indonesian province for almost a quarter of a century.