December 31 is National Heroes Day in Timor-Leste. In the past, 7 December was National Heroes Day, but that date is now reserved for Memorial Day. The purpose of National Heroes Day is to honour and remember those who struggled and sometimes died during the long, bloody fight for the independence of Timor-Leste.
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During the 1500’s, Timor-Leste was colonised by the Portuguese, and it was one of the last colonies in Asia that Portugal finally surrendered, with only Macao being held onto longer.
Portugal essentially began abandoning most of its overseas empire following the overthrow of Portugal’s four-decades-old dictatorship in the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Sensing its opportunity, Timor-Leste declared its independence on 28 November 1975.
But within only days, Indonesian forces invaded Timor-Leste and made it into Indonesia’s twenty-seventh province. The desire for independence never died, however, despite decades of foreign rule and often-bloody reprisals.
Between 100,000 and 200,000 people perished between 1975 and 2002 in the long-drawn-out fight for autonomy and freedom. On National Heroes Day, the people of Timor-Leste take time to remember their sacrifice and recommit to follow their brave example.