Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dropping the Flag

During the closing ceremony of the Independence Day celebration in Dili yesterday, an honor guard lowered the Timorese flag in front of the Government Palace when suddenly as the flag was being folded -- one of the honor guards dropped part of the flag onto the ground.

There was a collective gasp around me.

By the look on his face, the honor guard was in shock, himself -- and no doubt deeply embarrassed. A few seconds after the incident, he kissed the flag.

I had not realized the significance of the incident until I talked with my colleagues.

Many Timorese are superstitious and that includes issues concerning the flag. Some believe what happened yesterday is a bad omen -- signaling trouble ahead.

I was quickly reminded this morning by colleagues that on May 20th, 2002, when the flag was raised for the first time at Government Palace over an independent Timor-Leste -- the flag did not flutter. Within months, they said, new violence broke out.

The photograph of yesterday's incident appeared on the front page of one of the major newspapers, The Timor Post, with a short description of what happened.
One of my colleagues said his neighbor who saw it happen on television -- ran out of her house -- sobbing. He said she told him -- we are not going to be safe.

The reaction to yesterday's incident shows just how on edge people are -- it was just over a year ago that an assassination attempt was made on the president.

The main opposition political party is already attempting to politicize the incident by declaring that the ruling party is in trouble.

By the middle of the afternoon today, the President and Prime Minister were holding high level meetings to discuss how to handle the whole thing.

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