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José Alexandre “Xanana” Gusmão

President of East Timor
Born: June 20, 1946
Birthplace: Manatuto, East Timor

The charismatic former rebel won East Timor's first presidential election, held in April 2002. An independent, he was the candidate of 9 of East Timor's 16 political parties, an indication of his widespread appeal. Gusmão took office on May 20, 2002, after the United Nations relinquished power.

Gusmão pledged to encourage foreign investment and seek reconciliation with those who fought for Indonesia in East Timor's long war independence.

One of nine children, Gusmão attended a Jesuit seminary and Dili High School. After his compulsory military service in the Portuguese colonial forces, Gusmão worked for the colonial government.

Gusmão became an active revolutionary in 1975, after Portugal ended its 450-year rule over East Timor, and neighboring Indonesia promptly invaded. In 1979 Gusmão became the primary rebel leader, directing an effective guerrilla war from a series of mountainous jungle hideouts. For years, he was hailed for his ability to escape capture. However, he was arrested in 1992 and sent to prison, where he became known for his poetry and painting.

He was released in 1999, days after the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. Not long afterwards, the U.N. took over the nation's government.

Gusmão and his second wife, Australian Kirsty Sword, have two children. He also has two children from a previous marriage.


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