- Title: EAST TIMOR: East Timorese set for Presidential election despite security concerns
- Date: 8th April 2007
- Summary: VARIOUS OF CEREMONY TO HAND OVER BALLOT BOXES WATCHED BY PRESIDENT XANANA GUSMAO (4 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 23rd April 2007 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA9D6VBQPOB1LCBN7RY4594XF02
- Story Text: More than half a million people will vote in less than 24 hours in East Timor and ballot boxes are being delivered to districts for the first presidential election since the country became officially independent in May 2002 after 24 years of Indonesian rule.
Eight candidates are running for the presidency in the mainly Roman Catholic nation of East Timor, including Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.
Many hope the elected president will be able to unite a country beset by regional rivalry, divided security forces and disillusionment among citizens five years after independence.
More than 522,000 East Timorese are eligible to go to the polls on Monday (April 9) and election officials are undertaking last-minute preparations to ensure that all goes smoothly.
The National Election Commission (CNE) said 904 polling centres, mostly schools, had been set up for the vote which will be observed East Timorese and international groups.
"There are districts that cannot be reached by car or vehicle. There are districts that can only be reached by horse. So, UNMIT, UNPOL, government have provided vehicles, porters and horses, so that they can help facilitate transporting the ballot," said Maria Angelina Sarmento, a member of the National Election Commission.
Sarmento also expressed concern about security during Monday's presidential election, criticising international police for failing to prevent violence during two weeks of campaigning.
Around 30 people were injured when rival supporters clashed on Wednesday, forcing police to fire tear gas and warning shots.
A deadly rampage by pro-Jakarta militiamen in the wake of a freedom vote from Indonesia in 1999 and the cycle of violence triggered by the sacking of 600 rebellious soldiers last year are still fresh in the minds of many East Timorese.
Dozens of people were killed in last year's violence and Dili was forced to invite foreign troops in to quell the unrest.
There are now about 3,000 international soldiers, mainly from Australia, and U.N. police in impoverished East Timor.
"We are ready and I believe that people will behave very well. The people will listen to their heart," said president Xanana Gusmao when he officially sent ballot papers to country's districts on Sunday (April 8).
Hideaki Asahi, the head of the Japan Election Mission for Timor Leste said that his government will continue with its finance assistance during the election.
"We hope the election will be conducted in a transparent manner, accommodating every complaint whatsoever. There should be no room for a kind of lash back," said Asahi during a news conference.
In Dili, about 150,000 people who were driven from their homes last year when East Timor plunged into chaos following the government sacking of 600 rebellious soldiers, are hoping the elections will bring them a better future.
45-year-old Jose da Gusmao, who has lived in a refugee tent with his three daughters and wife for almost a year, hoped the winner of the election will unite the country.
"With this election I hope government will help us to return home safely. I pray night and day to return home."
Around 70,000 refugees have found themselves seeking shelter in schools, churches and other buildings in Dili while another 80,000 have fled back to their hometowns outside the capital, becoming additional burdens to their already poor relatives.
last year's violence was halted after the government called in international troops and peace has returned to the mainly Catholic nation but images of the chaos are still fresh in the memory of the victims.
There are still about 8,000 refugees at the camp in Dili's Don Bosco Catholic school complex, from 16,000 at the height of the violence, and more than 30,000 people in several camps throughout the city.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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