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Jose Ramos-Horta to Run for East Timor Presidency


Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has announced he will run in East Timor's April presidential election. As Chad Bouchard reports for VOA from Jakarta, the Noble Peace Prize laureate is expected to have to contend with intense political opposition during the race.

Jose Ramos-Horta told a rally of cheering supporters in his hometown, Laga, on Sunday that he will seek the presidency.

He said he made his decision after weeks of refection and promised to unveil a clear and transparent campaign platform based on reconciliation and help for the poor.

Mr. Ramos-Horta is a popular figure - winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his decades long struggle against Indonesian rule. The tiny country became independent in 2002 - but has struggled economically and with recent violence.

Mr. Ramos-Horta was called upon to serve as prime minister in July to stabilize the nation after a mishandled military mutiny sparked months of deadly gang warfare, and revealed long simmering divisions between those who supported and opposed independence.

An Australian-led peacekeeping force of more than 2,500 troops is maintaining relative calm, but sporadic clashes in the capital city, Dili, have claimed dozen of lives over the past few months.

Former prime minister, Mari Alkatiri - who was blamed but legally cleared of charges that he caused last year's unrest - will be a force in the April 9 presidential race. Mr. Alkatiri heads Fretilin - East Timor's dominant political party.

Political analyst Robert Lowry, a former Australian military attaché in Indonesia, says Mr. Ramos-Horta faces fierce opposition from Fretilin.

"Well, you know, Fretilin is very intolerant of opposition parties," Lowry says. "And so you can expect, no matter who is running it, you could expect at least a low level of violence to intimidate the other parties and ensure they don't win. "

Mr. Ramos-Horta - who has also served as defense and foreign minister - had longs ties to Fretilin, the main independence organization. But he and current President Xanana Gusmao - the former rebel leader - have followed more non-partisan policies since coming to office.

Mr. Ramos-Horta is expected to formally announce his candidacy on Monday and will campaign against eight other candidates.

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