DILI - East Timor's embattled prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, resigned today, saying he would take a share of responsibility for a political crisis that has gripped the world's newest democratic nation for over two months.
There was no immediate word on a replacement, but the news was welcomed by thousands of protesters who have been demonstrating in the capital for the past week, and they cheered and car horns blared as word of his resignation spread.
Alkatiri said he was stepping down in order to avoid the resignation of the nation's widely popular president, Xanana Gusmao, who had threatened to quit himself unless the prime minister left office.
"I am ready to resign from my position of prime minister of the government of RTL (East Timor) so as to avoid the resignation of his excellency the president of the republic," Alkatiri told a news conference.
He said he was doing so "having deeply reflected on the present situation prevailing in the country ... assuming my own share of responsibility for the crisis affecting our country ... (and) determined not to contribute to any deepening of the crisis".
He read only from a statement and refused to answer questions.
Alkatiri has been widely blamed for violence which erupted in late May after fighting within the armed forces spiralled into rioting, arson and looting in the streets of the capital, Dili.
Alkatiri's resignation has been the rallying cry during protests by thousands of Timorese that peaked in the past five days after damaging revelations in an Australian news documentary linked him to a plot to arm a civilian militia.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony for centuries before a revolution in Lisbon in 1975 gave the territory a brief taste of independence. Indonesian troops invaded a few days later and Jakarta annexed East Timor in 1976.
After a 1999 vote for independence marked by violence blamed largely on pro-Jakarta militia with ties to the Indonesian army, an international peacekeeping force moved into the territory, ushering in a transitional period of UN administration before East Timor became a fully fledged nation in 2002.