Xanana Gusmão led the East Timor independence movement from 1979, when his predecessor was killed in battle with the Indonesian occupation forces. In 1992 he was captured and imprisoned, but continued to be the moral leader of the people of East Timor. On 7 September 1999, after the collapse of the Indonesian dictatorship, he was freed, and moved to bring East Timor to independence under United Nations auspices. This dream becomes reality tonight, at midnight at the start of 20 May 2002, and Xanana Gusmão becomes his country's first recognized president.

He was born José Alexandro Gusmão on 20 June 1946 in the town of Manatuto, educated in Dili the capital and at a Jesuit seminary, and did compulsory service in the Portuguese colonial forces. In 1969 he married Emilia, by whom he was two children, and moved to Melbourne; his family continued to live there through the occupation. In 2000 he married the Austrlian Kirsty Sword, and they are expecting a second child. His name is pronounced something like Sha-na-na Goosh-mowng.

He is a poet too. In 1974 he won the colony's national poetry prize for a work called Mauberedias, modelled on Portugal's epic Os Lusíadas. The legend of the "poet warrior" followed him, and he wrote poetry while in prison.

After the April 1974 coup in Portugal, decolonization began rapidly, though less so in the remote and tiny colony of Portuguese Timor. But towards the end of 1975 there were political parties actively working for independence or for integration with their giant neighbour Indonesia, who already ruled the western half of Timor island. Gusmão returned to Timor in November to support Fretilin, the main pro-independence liberation movement. A short civil war between parties led to the proclamation of the Democratic Republic of East Timor (DRET) and an Indonesian invasion. Fretilin took to the hills and fought a guerrilla war. Their first president was killed in ambush in 1979, and Gusmão succeeded him.

After his capture in 1992 he was tried and imprisoned; after the fall of Suharto the Indonesian forces accepted that they could never win in East Timor, despite twenty years of genocide and assimilation. All they could hope for was a sympathetic administration that would accept being an autonomous province of Indonesia. They secretly funded militias to destroy the economy and terrorize the people before a referendum in August 1999. Through all this Xanana Gusmão continued to work for peace and independence and reconciliation.

There has been little question in anyone's mind but his own that he is the best person to lead East Timor into the free world. He was reluctant, would have preferred to be a pumpkin farmer or a photographer. He and the foreign minister José Ramos Horta split from the Fretilin movement before the final vote, to give new people the chance to move up, and he was criticized by Mari Alkatiri, who becomes his new prime minister, but there was no doubt Gusmão would sweep the poll on 14 April. His presidential term is five years.

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