Australians Take To The Streets Over East Timor


MELBOURNE: Sept 10 (South News) - Australians took to the streets Friday as thousands of people joined rallies in major capital cities calling for action to end the violence in East Timor.

Shirley Shackelton addresses Melbourne rallyIn the biggest rally, 25,000 people in Melbourne,including politicians, union leaders, office workers and students waving Fretlin flags in support of East Timor independence.

Banners saying ``Stop The Slaughter'' and ``Wiranto - Murder.'' Chants of ``Free East Timor'' and ``Viva Timor Leste'' (long live East Timor) came from the crowd after it heard from East Timorese resistance leader Mr Jose ``Xanana''  Gusmao during a live telephone hook-up from Jakarta.

``We need you, brothers and sisters of Australia, we need your voice,'' Xanana Gusmao in Jakarta said by telephone, ``I think it is important to send a message to the Indonesian Government that the Australian community and Australian workers will do everything they can to stop the killings.

Viva East Timor,'' he said. ``Viva,'' the crowd yelled back.

Unions, church groups and students were joined by lunch time crowds to hear members of the East Timorese community describe the horrors occurring in their home land.

Rally organiser and Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary, Mr Leigh Hubbard, who had spoken to Mr Gusmao on Thursday night, told the crowd the leader was struggling to stay positive after learning his father had been murdered hours before in Dili.

Attending the rally, Nito Gusmao, son of East Timor resistance leader Xanana Gusmao said his grandfather may have been killed for refusing to leave his home.

Other speakers included Jennie George, ACTU president and Shirley Shackelton, widow of a Australian journalist killed in East Timor in 1975. The rally, the third in Melbourne this week, has brought city traffic to a halt.

In Canberra, a small band of protesters protesters were arrested after spray painting ``Shame Australia!! Shame!'' onto the marble facade of Parliament House in bright, fluorescent pink. ``This is the greatest betrayal of the 20th century,'' one of the protesters yelled from the roof. Another shouted: ``What are we doing (to help East Timor)? We're sitting down and watching them being slaughtered.''

They have likened the slaughter in East Timor to the equivalent of one Port Arthur massacre every day since East Timor's invasion in 1975, and say Australia should cut all ties with Indonesia.

In Sydney more than a 1,000 high school students and others rallied outside Sydney Town Hall today to demand Australia end military cooperation with Indonesia.

A number of speakers addressed the crowd and demonstrators brandished banners with slogans such as "oily hands, bloody hands", "we have a debt, lest we forget" and "it's been 25 years, let's stop the bloodshed now".

One of the high school students, Becky Fairell-Lee, says young people are deeply concerned about the suffering of the East Timorese.

"There's this view held that young people are apathetic, we don't have a clue about what's going on and even if we do, we don't care," she said. "This protest today completely shows that we aren't. We know what's going on, we know, we can understand the news reports and we care for these people.

"We see what's going on and we care about it, you know and we want to do something. "We don't just acknowledge it and we don't just care about it, but we want to do something, we want to change it."

The rally moved along George Street to the offices of Indonesian airline Garuda in Hunter Street. The protesters chanted "end all military ties, stop the killings stop the lies" as they marched through central Sydney. Unions said up to 1,000 people converged on Sydney Airport to again disrupt flights by the Indonesian state airline Garuda as it tried to load passengers on their way to Bali.

``We have just been stopping passengers booked on Garuda flights, the impact has been quite big, the purpose is to draw the attention to East Timor,'' said East Timorese Harold Maucho.

Eight people have been charged during a rally in Brisbane outside the Brisbane offices of Indonesian airline Garuda.

Jason McLeod, a spokesman for the group Friends of East Timor, said the aim of the blockade was to peacefully disrupt the business of Garuda, which he said was controlled by the Indonesian military.

"The only way we can have an impact on the situation in East Timor is by hitting the hip pocket nerve of the generals in the Indonesian military," Mr McLeod told reporters. "Our government won't do it by cutting off aid and freezing the assets of the Indonesian generals, so we have to do it ourselves." He said the Queensland Nurses Union had urged its members to jam Garuda Indonesia's Brisbane switchboard with calls of support for East Timor.

Several hundred students joined a demonstration outside the offices of Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer in Adelaide, as part of a national walkout.

In Perth, an East Timorese man spoke of being ashamed to be an Australian citizen during a rally of about 1,000 people.

Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine called on the Government to reconsider its ties with the United States during a rally of about 200 people in Hobart.

Key unions escalated their economic protest against Jakarta, stopping multi-million dollar wheat exports and disrupting services to Indonesian diplomatic missions.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said unions had banned processing Indonesian crude oil, providing postal and telephone services to the Indonesian Embassy and consulates and Garuda, air freight between Australia and Indonesia, and stopped garbage collection from Indonesian missions.

``We have told people to put as much pressure as they can as quickly as possible on Indonesian interests in Australia,'' said ACTU assistant secretary Bill Mansfield. ``What we're having to do at the moment is actually hold people back in some cases.''

Meanwhile the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), said the London-based International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) had passed a resolution to implement international bans. ``There are already indications from the west coast of America and other areas that those bans have been put in place,'' said Paddy Crumlin, MUA deputy national secretary.

Wharfies said wheat shipments would not proceed, affecting the planned Saturday loading of the Bogasari Lima vessel in Brisbane port. The MUA earlier this week placed bans on unloading Indonesian ships in Australian ports but had allowed outgoing shipments of wheat to continue because it was regarded as an essential item.

Indonesia was Australia's biggest export wheat market in 1997/98, taking 2.4 million tons.Unions have already begun a campaign against Indonesian products and are refusing to load cargo going to and coming from the country.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) in Victoria has also imposed bans on all exports of car engine parts to Indonesia from Holden's Port Melbourne plant. The union says printing workshops which use Indonesian paper will be among the next places to be affected by a statewide AMWU ban on handling any Indonesian products.