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Easter Church Services Ring out Across East Timor as People Prepare for Vote


Thousands of East Timorese flocked to packed Easter church services a day ahead of a crucial vote for president in this largely Catholic nation that has been beset by violence for most of the past year. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from the capital Dili.

Amid church bells and religious songs, East Timorese across this tiny nation of just over a million people attended Easter church services Sunday, against a backdrop of uncertainty and fear over Monday's presidential election.

Salvador Monij attended mass with his family at Dili's main cathedral, close by his tent in a makeshift refugee camp. That has been his home since the firing of 600 soldiers a year ago engulfed Dili in an orgy of violence over regional rivalries.

Monij says the country's future depends on the success of this election. He says there must be no violence so East Timor can become a stable country.

Many here hope the election will bring peace and stability; others fear it will trigger more violence.

So far, the lead up to the vote has been relatively peaceful, despite several incidents of violence between supporters of opposing political groups.

Eight candidates are running for president, but most analysts agree only three have a shot at winning.

They are the current Prime Minister and Noble Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, a former guerilla fighter and the head of the country's dominant political party Fretilin, and the Democratic Party head Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo.

The winner must get more than 50 percent of the vote or face a run-off between the two top contenders in 30 days.

More than 200 international observers and two thousand national observers will monitor Monday's polls. About three thousand international troops and police will also be on hand to help quell any violence that may break out.

The former independence leader and now president Xanana Gusmao says he is confident the election will run smoothly.

"The presence of the electoral observers from everywhere, we hope that their presence can be a motivation for us to do the best things," Gusmao says. "And I hope also that their recommendations can be received in good spirits for the next election."

Mr. Gusmao is hoping to run for the more powerful position of prime minister when parliamentary elections are held in a few months.

East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule in 1999 triggered a trail of violence by pro-Jakarta militiamen that left at least one thousand people dead and much of the young country in ruins.

The United Nations ran East Timor until full independence in 2002. An Australia-led international peacekeeping force returned to the country when the violence broke out last year.

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