East Timor independence hero Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao resigned as prime minister Friday, stepping down ahead of an expected restructuring of the government next week.

A government statement said that Gusmao, 68, submitted his resignation to President Taur Matan Ruak.

Gusmao is a former guerrilla leader who spearheaded East Timor's drive for independence when Indonesian rule ended in 2002.

He was the first president of the new country, from 2002 to 2007, and then prime minister for more than seven years.

East Timor voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that had left more than 170,000 dead, but the country has struggled since then to develop economically. About half of the population of 1.2 million people live in poverty.