East Timor's deputy prime minister resigns after PM calls him a 'liar'

DILI, East Timor (AP) — One of East Timor's deputy prime ministers said he has resigned after Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao publicly called him a "liar" for his outspoken critiques of the government's failure to tackle corruption and improve people's lives.

The abrupt departure of Mario Viejas Carrascalao, who assumed the post 18 months ago, dealt another blow to the young country's political stability. One analyst said it could even prompt the collapse of the ruling coalition.

Carrascalao announced his resignation Wednesday in a column in the national newspaper Tempo Semanal in which he accused Gusmao's government of failing to stand up to corruption and nepotism, even as the problems become more sophisticated and entrenched

Carrascalao — who is a member of the Social Democratic Party, a partner in Gusmao's ruling coalition — said most of his efforts to make positive changes during his tenure were met with "silence, disinterest and passivity" — and sometimes even outright hostility.

He listed a raft of problems facing East Timor that he said the government had failed to solve in the eight years since independence.

Without a compulsory education policy, many children still do not attend school, he wrote. The infrastructure is in shambles. Efforts to fight AIDS and tuberculosis are woefully insufficient. Most people live in abject poverty. And local industry is virtually nonexistent.

But the final straw came when Gusmao criticized Carrascalao at a public gathering in Dili, the capital, last week for spreading allegations in the media about official graft and mismanagement before carrying out proper investigations.

"Mario (Carrascalao) is stupid and a liar," the prime minister said. "I have lost my confidence in him."

Carrascalao insisted Wednesday that he has acted properly.

"Dignity is much better than any position," he told reporters. "I'm 73 years old and have never been so humiliated. My response is to resign from my position of deputy prime minister."

It was not clear if his offer had been accepted.

Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

East Timor is a tiny nation that declared independence in 2002 following decades of harsh rule by Indonesia and a period of U.N. administration. The country has been plagued by violence and political unrest since then.

Damien Kingsbury, professor of international studies at Deakin University in Australia and an expert on East Timor, said the dispute could pose a risk to the government's stability.

If Carrascalao's Social Democratic Party decides to pull out of the government, Gusmao's ruling coalition will lose its majority in parliament by three seats, Kingsbury said, and could have a hard time wooing new partners.

Though the prime minister earlier said he wanted to postpone elections until 2012, after he had a chance to consolidate power, he may now be forced to push up the date, Kingsbury said.