It’s been a very busy past few days and it’s still only Thursday! My journalist colleagues arrived on Monday 2nd from Darwin and we have been moving about a lot since then.
On Tuesday we went to Bacau to cover the Ramos Horta rally there. We decided to get there before JRH instead of travelling in his convoy and check out the place first. When we arrived there was a Fretilin rally happening in a basketball court right next to the place where the JRH rally was going to be held. “oh oh” we thought, “possible conflict here”. There were quite a large number of PNTL and Pakistani police around, decked out in riot gear, tear gas guns, shields and the full monty. The Fretilin party seemed very good humoured and the people of Bacau were carrying on as normal all around it. Late in the afternoon, around 3pm, the JRH convoy arrived. There was absolutely NO violence at all, nothing except a few good-natured insults and rival chanting. The police were excellent, keeping the rival supporters apart but with no heavy-handedness.
JRH received a hero’s welcome, with people forming a seat with their arms to carry him into the rally arena. After that it was a normal election rally. Speech’s, music and a very hot sun. We got home from Bacau pretty late and just crashed.
Next day, Wednesday 4th (and Mrs. Sod’s birthday) was a bit different. Most of the candidates were holding their closing rallies in Dili so it was a very busy day. We had been informed by the Fretilin media office that ‘Lu’olo’ would be holding his rally at the main stadium at 10am. When we arrived there were CNRT and JRH posters all over the place so we had a re-think. It turned out Lu’olo was holding his rally at the motorbike track in Comoro so headed over there. On the way, just where the Banana Road and the UN water point road (my god, these landmarks are surreal) meet were some ‘La Sama’ supporters. Not many, about 50 young boys, very calm and friendly and obviously not looking for trouble. There were many many many Fretilin trucks going past, full up with young boys, most painted in the party colours and having a good ole time. Well, some of the Fretilin boys decided they didn’t much like the look of the ‘La Sama’ boys so they jumped out of a couple of the trucks and started slinging rocks at the other chaps. The other chaps sensibly decided to run away. The Fretilin boys vented their frustration on a couple of goats who were in the wrong place at the wrong time by rocking them instead. They also threw some rocks at a few abandoned houses and one burnt-out car. All very low-key. The GNR quickly arrived on the scene and order was restored. No heads being cracked this time.
The Fretilin rally itself was pretty good. A great band, good atmosphere and lots of singing and dancing. After a couple of hours the man himself ‘Lu’olo’ arrived with one of his children, and Dr. Mari Alkatiri. The crowd went wild! Once everyone had calmed down a bit the Fretilin party song was sung by EVERYBODY! It was very moving, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This thing went as these things go, lots of speeches, promises etc etc. and then we left.
So, we went into town for the JRH rally and the ‘La’Sama’ rally. Again, both very jolly affairs, lots of singing, dancing and boys with painted faces. But I still think Fretilin had the best band. A very small amount of violence marred these events, some of which you may have seen in the Australian media. Thank God I am working with a correspondent who doesn’t talk these things up and make them into something they weren’t. The only two incidents I personally witnessed was a total of about 20 rocks thrown between guys on some Fretilin trucks and some guys on ‘La’Sama’ trucks. 20 rocks! At least 8,000 people. It wasn’t much in the general scheme of things. I’ve seen worse just driving to Tiger fuels to buy a Mrs. Mac’s pie.
The second incident was outside the WB building which ‘Squatter’ describes in his blog. This basically was a 1 minute incident which was very small. Some Fretilin trucks were driving by the university, unfortunately I was with them, when a group of boys came out of the university and pelted the Fretilin guys with rocks. My car and my correspondent both got hit. No major damage to either, and the car isn’t insured.
A Portugues officer fired a couple of tear gas rounds and that was it. Incident over.
So, we hung around for a few more hours, driving around, checking things out. Overall I would say the day went very well. I’ve read of around 30 minor injuries on the day, with the emphasis on minor. I would have said more people were hurt in traffic accidents yesterday than in any violence. We saw four accidents.
This morning, Wednesday, up early for a one-on-one breakfast interview with PM Jose Ramos Horta. He was his usual urbane self, greeting us nicely, putting us at our ease and generally being a nice chap. You can see/read his interview on the Australian CH7 web-site. Off the record, he had to be reminded that his last foreign trip was NOT to see the Pope, but to see Jennifer Lopez. How could he have forgotten that?
Today is very quiet in Dili, I’ve been driving around most of the day and I can honestly say it’s deader than a wet weekend in Wigan. Which is a GOOD thing.
Now we’ve got the long Easter weekend coming up with polling on Monday. I really hope that people are going to be sensible and not mar the past two weeks with any mindless violence, but to be honest, I think if ‘Lu’olo’ is beaten on Monday we will have quite a few incidents. Ramos Horta himself thinks it will be a run-off between him and ‘Lu’olo’ with a further tie-break election in May. Actually, I agree with him. I also think that if there is a tie-break, JRH will win it. We shall see.