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Thousands protest outside Australian embassy in East Timor

DILI, East Timor – Thousands of protesters descended Tuesday, March 22, on the Australian embassy in the East Timor capital Dili, calling for fresh negotiations to set the border in an energy-rich stretch of sea between the neighbors.

More than 10,000 activists, students, and former resistance fighters massed outside the mission, with schools across the capital closed for the day, rally coordinator Juvinal Dias told AFP.

"This is possibly the biggest demonstration we've seen since we declared independence," Dias said.

"It's been very massive and it was organized by the people, not the government."

East Timor, a tiny oil and gas-rich nation whose sluggish economy depends heavily on resource exports, has been demanding Australia renegotiate their border in lucrative oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.

Dili claims Australia spied on ministers during negotiations on the existing boundaries to gain commercial advantage, and wants the treaty torn up. 

It was signed between Canberra and Dili in 2006, 4 years after East Timor won independence following years of brutal Indonesian occupation.

Dias said the protesters want Australia to respect international law and return to the table in good faith to negotiate a new maritime boundary. 

A request for protest leaders to meet the Australian ambassador or another senior diplomat was denied, so their demands were conveyed by letter.

Timorese supporters staged similar protests in overseas cities including Sydney, Melbourne, and Jakarta. – Rappler.com