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East Timor Prime Minister Likely to Resign

East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri likely will resign, his spokesman said Wednesday, as the country's president and members of the beleaguered leader's own party joined a chorus of people saying he no longer had their trust.

"The prime minister will meet with his Cabinet colleagues (Thursday) to discuss whether he should resign," Miguel Sarmento told The Associated Press.

Many East Timorese say Alkatiri's decision to fire 600 disgruntled soldiers in March was to blame for the subsequent clashes and gang warfare that has left at least 30 people dead and sent nearly 150,000 people fleeing from their homes.

CountyWatch: East Timor

The violence is the worst to hit the tiny Asian nation since it voted for independence from Indonesia seven years ago, sparking bloody rampages by revenge-seeking militias.

President Xanana Gusmao wrote a letter to Alkatiri asking that he step down, Sarmento said.

Asked if that would happen, the spokesman said: "Yes, I think so."

Hours earlier, Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party also demanded his resignation, accusing him of lying about distributing weapons to civilians, said party member Vicente Maubucy Ximenes.

"We asked the president to suspend him as prime minister and form a transitional government while waiting for next year's election," Ximenes told reporters, claiming to speak for a majority of the party.

Alkatiri's critics have accused him of forming a hit squad to kill his political opponents, but Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteir told The Associated Press Wednesday there was no evidence to support that, though investigations were ongoing.

Still, his decision to order the arrest of the country's former interior minister on Tuesday for allegedly giving guns to Vincente "Railos" da Concecao — the self-proclaimed leader of the hit squad — added to the pressure on Alkatiri.

The prime minister has thus far resisted calls for his ouster and said earlier this month he would resign only if his party voted him out of office — an option that had been considered unlikely after his re-election as leader in May.

Meanwhile, about 100 men staged a loud but orderly protest Wednesday demanding Alkatiri resign, the second day the capital has seen demonstrations against him. "Step down Alkatiri!" they shouted outside President Xanana Gusmao's palace, where Alkatiri and government ministers were meeting.

"We came to force Xanana to please make a decision and to hear the people," organizer Augusto Junior Tridade said, before leading the protesters to the U.N. headquarters in Dili.

U.N. special representative Sukehiro Hasegawa greeted the men and urged them to express their opinions peacefully.

The U.N. Security Council extended the mandate of the U.N. office in East Timor for two months on Tuesday and urged all parties in the beleaguered nation to refrain from violence and take part in the democratic process.