Friday, March 23, 2007

E Timor election campaign kicks off

E Timor election campaign kicks off

The United Nations says campaigning for East Timor's April 9 presidential election has officially got under way, with Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta seen as favourite to win.

Eight candidates are standing in what will be the country's first presidential poll since it declared independence in 2002 after 24 years of occupation by Indonesia.

Thousands of police officers have been mobilised, partly to secure polling stations and ballot boxes amid fears of unrest, with rebel leader Alfredo Reinado still at large.

Dr Ramos-Horta, who was an exiled spokesman for the resistance movement during occupation, says East Timor is still a fragile nation.

"It's institutions are still weak, poverty is still widespread, justice has not yet been served," he said in the capital, Dili.

The head of the UN mission in East Timor, Atul Khare, says campaigning can begin after a generally peaceful voter-registration process.

He says it is essential the campaign is carried out "freely, fairly and without violence, without intimidation and without misuse of state resources".

The candidates seeking to replace incumbent President Xanana Gusmao, who is not standing, have signed a code of conduct designed to ensure the election is fair and peaceful.

East Timor chose self-determination in a UN-administered referendum in 1999 but a wave of violence and destruction swept over it soon after.

Last year, at least 37 people were killed and 150,000 were forced to flee in widespread unrest that led to the dispatch of an Australian-led international peacekeeping force.


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