East Timor's president returns after assassination attempt

Jose Ramos-Horta was shot twice by rebels in front of his house in the capital on Feb. 11.

Ramos-Horta  224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ramos-Horta 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Jose Ramos-Horta returned to his tiny troubled nation early Thursday after recuperating from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt more than two months ago. Thousands of supporters cheered and clapped as the popular Nobel laureate stepped off the plane, accompanied by bodyguards, aides and his personal doctor. Some waved East Timorese flags and banners that said "Welcome home our beloved president! We love you!" Ramos-Horta hugged government ministers lining a red carpet on the tarmac and posed for pictures. The 58-year-old leader was shot twice by rebels in front of his house in the capital, Dili, on Feb. 11. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unharmed from an ambush on his motorcade the same day. The attacks underscored the country's volatility six years after it declared independence following decades of harsh rule by Indonesia and a period of UN administration. Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between government troops and mutinous soldiers and more than 150,000 others forced to flee their homes. Ramos-Horta almost died as a result of the attack. He was evacuated to the northern Australian city of Darwin, where he spent more than two weeks in a medically-induced coma and underwent multiple surgeries to repair gunshot wounds to his torso. Dr. Rui de Araujo, the president's personal physician, said Thursday that Ramos-Horta's recovery has been remarkable. "The wounds have completely closed," de Araujo told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "He still has some neuropathic pain, but that is normal for the kind of damage he had... Medically speaking he is up to 90 percent cured." East Timor broke from decades of often-brutal Indonesian rule in 1999 in a UN-sponsored referendum. Three years later, it became Asia's newest nation, but the euphoria quickly evaporated amid the challenges of governing a divided, impoverished people. "Our president has come home," said Eusebio de Lima, 59, who has been living in a squalid refugee camp for more than a year. "Even after being shot, he's home. This just shows how much he loves our country."