E. Timor celebrates 1999 vote for independence

Antara Foto/Reuters

People gather for the 20th Popular Consultation Day to commemorate the East Timor referendum in Tasi Tolu, Dili, on Friday.

ReutersSYDNEY (Reuters) — Thousands of people turned out on Friday night to celebrate East Timor’s independence on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 referendum that led to the end of Indonesian occupation.

Fireworks, music and song erupted at Tasi Tolu outside Dili, where the crowd sang the national anthem “Patria” which means “Fatherland,” ABC News reported on Saturday.

East Timor celebrates the date as August 30 was the day they got the chance to vote for freedom from 24 years of a brutal Indonesian occupation marked by torture and extrajudicial killings.

Nobody knows how many people died, but the death toll was estimated by the U.N.’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor at between 102,800 and 183,000.

Yale University includes the Indonesian occupation in its Genocide Studies programme, stating up to a fifth of East Timor’s population perished.

The killings began even before Indonesia officially invaded the former Portuguese colony in December 1975, unopposed by Australia.

Indonesian troops crossing the border ahead of the invasion shot five Australian television newsmen in the town of Balibo on Oct. 16, then executed AAP reporter Roger East on the docks of the capital Dili in December when he tried to find out what happened to the journalists.

Mass murders during the occupation included the 1991 Dili Massacre where Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed mourners attending a memorial service at Santa Cruz cemetery killing at least 250 people.

The massacre was filmed by international reporters and the footage caused outrage around the world, galvanizing support worldwide for East Timorese independence.

In 1999, the Timorese got their chance to vote for freedom at a U.N.-organized referendum.Speech

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