- Title: EAST TIMOR: East Timorese vote for a president after a year of crisis
- Date: 9th April 2007
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE)(English) EUROPEAN UNION CHIEF OBSERVER JAVIER POMEZ RUIZ SAYING: "(We see) A lot of people in the polling stations for votes, no incident, so little problems. So I supposed today will be a happy day for all the people."
- Embargoed: 24th April 2007 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAB2O44ZGFT8PLMMV36L9F8BX7Q
- Story Text: East Timorese voters wait in line to cast their ballots for the presidential elections on Monday and said they were happy to be able to vote for a leader they say would bring them hope.
Voters in East Timor queued up to cast their votes for a new president on Monday (April 9), hoping the election can help end deep divisions after a year of instability in one of the world's youngest and poorest nations.
Just over half a million voters will pick the new president in Monday's election that outgoing President Xanana Gusmao says is a chance to demonstrate his nation is not a failed state.
Supporters of rival candidates clashed during campaigning last week, injuring more than 30 people and prompting international troops to fire tear gas and warning shots.
Eight candidates are running, including Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner who spearheaded an overseas campaign for independence from Indonesia. If no one wins more than half the vote, a run-off will be held, a scenario some analysts see as likely.
"I don't want to be elected on the back of violence. So for me, this is absolutely off limit. And sort of violence, even insult against other candidates," Ramos-Horta told Reuters as went to cast his ballot.
Gusmao, an ally of Ramos-Horta, is not running for re-election but plans to seek the more hands-on post of prime minister in a separate parliamentary election later this year.
Fretilin ruling party Francisco Gutteres, who is the front-runner in the elections, said he could not promise that there will be no violence from his supporters if he lost the elections.
"Everything is possible. We will see the situation after the election. And what decision to be made," he said.
The capital appeared calm on Monday, although residents said that overnight two soldiers described as drunk fired shots while stopping traffic. No one was hurt in the incident, they said.
The violence has heightened fears the impoverished country of one million people, whose secession from Indonesian rule in 1999 triggered widespread violence by pro-Jakarta militias, could again descend into chaos.
A foreign national observer said he did not witness any violent incidents at the polls.
"(We see) A lot of people in the polling stations for votes, no incident, so little problems. So I supposed today will be a happy day for all the people," said European Union Chief Observer Javier Pomez Ruiz.
Voters streaming into polling stations in elementary schools hoped the elections would bring peace to East Timor.
"I hope the winner will bring peace to the people and unite the country," said resident Celestino Gomez.
Around 3,000 international troops and police will patrol to safeguard the elections, while about 200 international observers are monitoring the voting.
Some of the 700 polling stations are so remote the ballot papers will be delivered on horses.
Gusmao has blamed last week's clashes on the Fretilin Party of ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, accusing its leaders of allowing supporters to provoke violence.
The party has denied the accusations, saying its supporters had been victims.
Pro-Jakarta militiamen went on a violent rampage following a 1999 vote for independence, killing about 1,000 people and destroying much of the territory's infrastructure.
East Timor again descended into chaos last May after the government sacked 600 rebellious soldiers. More than 30 people were killed and 100,000 fled their homes, until the government asked foreign troops to quell the unrest.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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