23 October -- East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao today was elected speaker of the East Timor National Council, a precursor of the nation's parliament, which held its first session today after replacing the National Consultative Council.
Mr. Gusmao was voted in with 27 members in favour and three opposing. Milena Pires, who represents the Women's Network, was elected Deputy Speaker after a second round.
The 36-member National Council consists of representatives from all 13 districts in East Timor, as well as civic organizations, religious groups and political parties. It replaces the 15-member National Consultative Council, which held its last meeting on 20 October. Commenting on the National Council's role, a UN spokesman has described it as a "first step towards a Parliament" and said that as the territory prepares for elections next year, the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is trying to move East Timor gradually towards self-government.
In other news, the head of UNTAET, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has begun a five-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. Tomorrow in Canberra, Mr. Vieira de Mello is scheduled to meet with Australia's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister.