Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ramos Horta in group to contest E Timor presidency

Ramos Horta in group to contest E Timor presidency

Eight candidates, including the current prime minister, will contest
East Timor's presidential race in April, the national election commission says.

The announcement came just days after thousands protested over a raid
by international troops on the hideout of fugitive rebel leader
Alfredo Reinado who has become as a hero among the impoverished
country's restless, unemployed youth.

President Xanana Gusmao, who ordered Reinado's arrest, has called on
his countrymen to avoid doing anything that could destroy national
unity ahead of the April 9 election that would pave the way for the
independence hero's retirement.

"Today is the last day to verify the requirements, and eight
candidates have fulfilled all of those requirements," election
commission chief Faustino Cardoso said.

"The supreme court and the election commission have ratified them."

As well as Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize
laureate who is running as an independent, the pack includes
parliamentary chief Francisco Guterres from the ruling Fretilin party
and veteran politician Francisco Xavier do Amaral who lost to Mr
Gusmao in the 2002 race.

East Timor voted in a 1999 referendum for independence from
Indonesia, which had annexed it after Portugal ended its colonial
rule in 1975.

The country became fully independent in 2002 after a period of UN

The recent standoff between Reinado and Australian troops, which
killed five rebel supporters, has raised fears of violence ahead of
the elections.

Australia, the United States, Great Britain and New Zealand issued
travel warnings for their nationals, saying the situation in East
Timor was volatile and could deteriorate.

The Reinado chase highlights the east-west divide that is troubling
the tiny nation of 1 million people.

The country erupted into chaos and gang violence last May when 600
mutinous soldiers from the western region were dismissed.

Reinado, a former major from the west, quit the army out of sympathy
with his sacked colleagues and has been a thorn to the government since.

He has been on the run since escaping from a Dili jail last August
along with 50 other inmates.

Australia, which headed a UN-backed intervention force to East Timor
in 1999, led a 3,200-strong peacekeeping force back to Dili to combat
last year's violence.

Canberra still has 800 troops in East Timor, along with 120 New
Zealand soldiers.

Australia agreed in January to provide troops to protect the current
UN mission - approved by the Security Council on August 25 for six
months - and rapid response capacity for UN police.

In an address to the United Nations last month, Dr Ramos-Horta begged
members to "stay the course" with Dili after describing building a
state from almost zero as a "Herculean task".

- Reuters



March 10, 2007

ASIA: Guards on wish list as 500,000 prepare for E Timor vote

Jill Jolliffe

Dili March 9

Bodyguards are high on the wish list of some candidates
campaigning to replace East Timor President Xanana Gusmao in a poll on April 9.

With military operations against fugitive Alfredo Reinado
continuing in the mountains and chronic violence simmering in the
East Timorese capital, three of eight contenders have asked for close
protection during campaigning.

"Anything can happen in our current situation," 70-year-old
Xavier do Amaral said, "It's best to be prepared."

He accepted a UN offer of a bodyguard, while two others, Lucia
Lobato and Fernando de Araujo, reportedly asked Gusmao to provide
protection from his own security staff.

When Amaral stood against the ex-guerrilla commander in the last
presidential poll in 2001, it was to ensure that more than one
candidate stood in East Timor's first free election. No one else was willing.

By contrast, the 2007 poll promises to be closely fought between
a range of politically experienced candidates. The choice reflects
the high stakes after months of conflict during which the credibility
of the formerly unchallenged government party Fretilin has been
severely dented.

All candidates had completed legal requirements to stand by
yesterday, with campaigning due to start in earnest.

Among those on the left is Fretilin veteran Francisco 'Lu-Olo'
Guterres, who has served as parliamentary speaker since 2001 and will
have the full weight of the historic "Party of Liberation" behind him.

Experienced analysts see Fretilin as a party strong among rural
voters for its 24 year record of resistance against Indonesian occupation.

Avelino Coelho da Silva of the Timorese Socialist Party (PST) is
another sort of leftist. He is the closest to a Che Guevara East
Timor can offer, and his firebrand oratory could attract younger voters.

Fernando de Araujo of the Democratic Party (PD) was a founder of
the student resistance movement to Indonesia, and later the cellmate
of Xanana Gusmao.

His party was the most-voted opposition party in parliamentary
elections six years ago, but trailing far behind Fretilin's 57.8 per
cent. He is identified with the rebellion against the Fretilin
government in western regions.

The only female candidate is Lucia Lobato, a young, articulate
parliamentarian for the Social Democrat party, which polled closely
behind the PD.

The internationally best-known candidate is prime minister and
Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, an independent. He swapped the
office of foreign minister for prime minister last June after the
fall from grace of Fretilin premier Mari Alkatiri.

With Guterres and Lasama, he is a frontrunner, but the final
result will depend on a trade-off of preferences and alliances if the
contest goes to a second round.

Ramos Horta's brother-in-law Joao Carrascalao, founder of the
conservative Democratic Timorese Party (UDT) is also standing, along
with monarchist Manuel Tilman, a deputy from the KOTA party, which
advocates the restoration of the power of traditional chiefs.

Amaral, Araujo, Lobato and Tilman, are of the Mambai ethnic group
identified with Major Reinado's western revolt. They could siphon
support from Fretilin's traditional voters in these districts, and
benefit from the disaffected youth vote, but it promises to be a
tightly fought battle.

The UN and East Timor's international donors are pulling out all
the stops to ensure the election goes ahead smoothly despite its
volatile backdrop.

According to Steven Wagensall, UN advisor to East Timor's
independent National Electoral Commission, "Around 400,000 previous
voters have been confirmed and we will have around 100,000 new
cards-mainly of 17-year-olds voting for the first time, but also
of people renewing cards lost or destroyed".

He said advisers, communications and transport were being
provided, along with generous technical support in all outlying districts.

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