Blowing out the cobwebs

Forgive me lord for I have sinned in that I raised my middle finger in protest at the truck bearing down on me at full speed while I was innocently cycling on MY side of the road.  I apologise for keeping said finger in vertical position while heading off into the dirt to avoid aforementioned truck while it was performing an unnecessary overtaking manoeuvre on beach road when a 2 second wait would have provided a clear road ahead devoid of cyclist with middle finger raised in forlorn protest.  I also regret cursing this event in the seconds afterwards and hurling abuse about the flashing headlights which were obviously subtle encouragement for me to vacate MY side of the road.

I am better now … but I have to give some credit for UN drivers who these days seem to have complied with requests not to speed and perform ridiculous manoeouvres like unknown non-UN truck driver above.  Well, they are better anyway.

Be that as it may (whatever that means) it gave me incentive to blow the cobwebs out this week.  Recently I attended 2 functions courtesy of the Kebab Club (near the ANZ bank) and I have to give the place pretty good marks for the food.  I also visited the Atlantic Grill down near Christo Rei and it seems to be cutting a more refined image in that neck of the woods.  Nevertheless, I reverted to the old favourite CazBar next door which was more in keeping with my standard of dress and demeanour.

There is no doubt that the little bay containing Caz Bar, Atlantic Grill and Sol e Mar (my favourite juice bar) is the choice relaxation spot with a neat little beach and the picture perfect orientation to capture the absolutely magnificent sunsets. Provided you can find a car parking spot, a perfect place to blow out the cobwebs before curfew.  Cobwebs blown.

Interview with a gecko on the wall

The new 30-day 10pm to 6am curfew is now bedded down but not before a few dodgy incidents with police outside of curfew hours (ie police over-zealousness).  The TL military and police are quite active now and it seems all armed to the hilt. This does tend to make one nervous given these 2 groups were not exactly seeing eye to eye in 2006. It seemed to take the TL police boys a couple of days to get the hang of 10pm curfew. Heavily tinted car windows are no longer flavour of of the month – they became hugely popular after 2006.

The new army/police merger – called joint command (I think) has resulted in the joint command HQ now in Memorial Hall in Farol and the boys have decided to block off that section of the beach road including the hall, Timor Sea Designated Authority, Thai Embassy and Motael Church.

From time to time, one sees truckloads of joint command speeding around town with sirens blaring. No sign of any security problems at all so it is assumed that they are late for lunch or something.

Despite the now ridiculously inaccurate weather forecasts on OZ radio and TV, it has not rained for several days.  At this time of year, these forecasts are pointless really.

Fortunately, this has meant no further deterioration in road conditions. The beach road outside the Malaysian Embassy is pretty bad as are some huge holes in the road down past Sabia restaurant (the new name for Bangkok Thai/Soupy’s which is under new ownership). The waves have chewed away under the seawall leaving a Moris Mini sized hole for the unwary. A couple more storms and it could have been interesting.

Obviously sorting out the events of 2 weeks ago is still a work-in-progress. I think a bit of sarcasm may get the geckos talking. But can’t expect much as the flies on the wall never ratted.

State of siege

I believe the “State of Siege” has now been extended by 30 days. I presume this means the curfew goes along with it, so no night-time movements until 23 March. I decided to look up “State of Siege” in the english version of the constitution (a 68 page downloadable PDF file). I am still not clear and all I could glean from this document is :

  • Suspension of the exercise of fundamental rights, freedoms and guarantees
  • Can only be enacted for a maximum of 30 days at a time
  • Parliament can not be dissolved during this period
  • The constitution can not be changed during this period

I think it would be handy to get a bit more detail on what rights, freedoms and guarantees have been foregone. We sort of know that there is an 8pm to 6am curfew and rallies and other public meetings are not on.

I had thought that some of the bar/restaurants would do OK but I am told this is not so. Some restaurants simply are not bothering to open at night and some are taking holidays. The bar/restaurants with accompanying accommodation will probably do better than others. This is going to hurt the food and beverage sector.

The “6 o’clock slam” will probably be institutionalised over the next month, some people will get more sleep and there will probably be a bit of curfew syndrome. I have already heard the term “stir crazy” mentioned several times. A good time for expats to take holidays I reckon.

Those expats who live in modest accommodation with no cooking facilities may do it hard. The One More Bar is offering sleep-overs so you can watch the rugby or whatever then pass out on the floor. Not for me.

AMENDMENT (8:17pm) :  The curfew hours have been altered to 10pm to 6am.  Bars and restaurants rejoice.  Alas, the “6 o’clock slam” may not be quite so exciting.

Rain, rain and more rain

It has been raining pretty much non-stop for over 8 hours here in Dili and I can’t recall a long session like this for a long time.  The house is about to float away.  The street is a lake.  The roof is leaking badly in some places and if it keeps going, I think it will break through the ceiling in a couple of spots.

I think this will cause quite a few problems around town.  This is the sort of stuff that causes road slips.  I imagine Comorro river is doing some very strange things and this may sort out just where it decides to break out to the sea.  We’ll see as the day pans out.

Roads and waves do not mix

It seems that it has rained 2 days out of 3 so far in 2008.  If water gets in under road surfaces, then deterioration often sets in quickly.  There seems to be a marked deterioration in the road surface around town.  Perhaps the bits getting the worst of it are the roads along the seaside stretching from the Christo Rei statue right down to the Ocean View Hotel near the Comorro River mouth.

Although there have been warnings of expected rough weather, it hasn’t really let go yet but even so, on a high tide, waves have frequently been seen crashing over these seaside roads.  The rapid deterioration right in front of the Malaysian Embassy down near the Comorro market/Pertamina Wharf corner has been quite noticable.  The seawall (only about 0.4 metres high) seems unable to cope with the wave action there and for as long as I can remember, has been pummelled into smithereens.

Just east of “pig bridge” near the Red Cross, waves have crossed the road and further east, the road is getting damaged more and more.

Who knows what will happen in a really big storm.  There is a reason to use 4 wheel drives here.

What’s up Friday PM

Not much really. It is as dead as a dodo out there. I am told that the curfew is really being treated seriously so if you want a visit to the police station, just get on out there.

During the day, it really is quite normal. The increased security presence really does overwhelm any thoughts of activities as experienced in 2006. I can’t see how it is possible.

The international press are now swarming all over the place. Major Alfredo’s funeral and PM Kev’s visit have given the lads (a gender neutral term) a good couple of days. I guess the hotels are full.

I am increasingly confused by all the reports, conflicting observations and speculative conclusions. One thing that one should consider here is that it is a small place. Sometimes it seems that every Timorese you know is related to some other Timorese. At times, it is quite disconcerting. So when you read of “guards/witnesses recognising attackers”, you better believe that it is quite possible.

So when a close to lightning raid happens and people escape, it was no surprise to hear that 20+ people are already on arrest warrants/lists. A lot of local people seem to know these things.

My cyclist mate has been interviewed and I am convinced that reasonable police investigations have been carried out so it is just a matter of time before some real information is released – hopefully.

Meanwhile, the events of the week destroyed Valentine’s Day organised dinners (cop it Cupid) and I believe the Atlantic Grill had intended on an opening night bash tonight. Think lunchtime parties this weekend.

Not the Spice Girls

At the moment, I am just reading the news like everyone else but there are still many conflicting views.

I have heard/read “Alfredo shot in a bedroom/shot at the front gate”, “shooting started at 6:50am versus Alfredo shot 30 minutes before the President”, “kidnap not assassination”, “PM Xanana knew nothing about what happened 40 minutes before / made fully aware”, my cyclist friend has been elevated to diplomat but downgraded to jogger etc. etc.

I am sure the UN police know enough to knock some of these on the head quite quickly but they probably will not say until they believe they have the facts worked out sufficiently. There are arrest warrants to be issued etc. etc.  And of course, they are fighting their own battle re. claims of being slow to respond and reluctant to enter the shooting area.

Meanwhile we await if the “state of siege” will be extended by 10 days. There seems to be some degree of uncertainty. But if it presses ahead, the bars will receive a hit. I rang a friend at 7pm last night (to discuss a work issue) and found the friend in a bar operating at full swing. I am not old enough to have experienced the (now historical) Melbourne 6-o’clock swill * but I detected an element of that in the festivities.

The last 3 nights have been very quiet. The HMAS Perth arrived Tuesday morning and is roaming up and down the Dili coastline. On Tuesday, ABC TV reported that OZ troops and police arrived “secretly” at Dili airport. That raised a chuckle. There are only about 2 plane movements a day at Dili airport and the only jet is the lunchtime turnaround of the 737 from/to Bali. So when the 4-engined jet nearly blew the roof off late afternoon, “oh, they’re here”. Even the Spice Girls could have arrived more secretly.

* The 6 o’clock swill was the term used for lining up a number of beers at the bar prior to the cessation of bar service at 6pm. The law at the time was designed to put an end to the male breadwinner drinking all night in bars. So he just bought 3 or more beers and lined them up, which might keep him going until 8 o’clock. I would love to have seen it – purely from a sociological point of view of course.

The state of emergency and curfew

To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a curfew until this morning.  It was between midnight and 6am – times I am unlikely to be too conscious.  Tonight is meant to be 8pm until 6am.

To answer a commenter about what “martial law” is like.  I don’t know as it is a “state of emergency”.  I still don’t know what that is either but I suspect it is more related to a set of emergency powers rather than anything I will see looking out the window.  As for the curfew, I doubt I will notice any difference.  I guess it will probably mean all cars will be stopped at roadblocks tonight and anyone not on reasonably important business will be told to go home.

In reality, these measures have been instigated to stop what “might” happen not what is happening as the situation was far worse at this time last year from a street not political point of view.  And even worse in 2006 when no such official “states” were enacted as I recall.

The streets are close to normal and the hotels filling with international reporters.

Gunfight at the President’s Corral

A friend who lives near the President’s home (about 5 kms east of the centre of Dili) called me at about 7am this morning to tell me that there was gunfire which had been going on for about 15 minutes. It appears the gunfight started at around 6:30am but perhaps the confrontation actually started earlier. Within 1/2 an hour, the security warnings apparatus came into play and it has been like that ever since.

I rang another friend who usually goes for the ritual Jesus walk each morning and yes, the President was out on his regular morning walk as well. He walks regularly with his small security team. Reports from here (and cross-referenced with what ABC radio has reported) have differed slightly but it would appear that some sort of gunfight actually started while the President was on his walk. My friend said the President got on his phone when the gunfire started and continued walking home – probably something like 1/2 to 1 kms. A 2nd flurry of gunfire occured a few minutes later. To put this into personal perspective, I did the Jesus walk last Thursday morning at 6:30am and passed the President on his.

Later reports suggest that the President was in “convoy” but I presume this to mean this was his “on-foot” group as they were walking up the hill to his home.

The line on the map below is 2kms long. It shows the President’s house, the Cristo Rei statue and the road up the hill to his house.

TL President shooting general location map

It now seems certain that he was shot and that he was taken to the Australian military hospital which is located at the heliport. Note that the heliport is NOT the airport which is some 5 kms on the western side of town. The heliport is also just west of town and NOT near to the President’s house but some 6kms across the other side of town.

I have heard ambulances but have no info on the ABC reports of up to 20 wounded or if Major Alfredo was amongst them or indeed killed, as reported.

Basically, this has put a lot of expats on hold until accurate information comes through and more importantly from a personal security point of view, what the reaction will be from the Timorese themselves. The average Joao in the street is keeping off the streets becasue they don’t really know what will happen next.