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East Timor Quiet on Eve of Election


The troubled nation of East Timor is calm on the eve of elections as people prepare to choose between a Nobel Peace prizewinner and an ex-independence fighter for the country's new president. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the capital Dili and brings us this report.

After a year of political turmoil and violence, East Timor was calm Tuesday, a day before voters select a new president.

This election campaign period, which follows a first round of voting last month that failed to produce an outright winner, has been peaceful, raising hope for stability in the future.

Steven Weigensail, who works with the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor, says there was little violence during the campaign.

"It's been quite a peaceful campaign period. We have had no major security incidents reported, a few issues here and there across the country, but by and large it has been a very peaceful and calm election campaign," he said.

Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is running against Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres, a former independence fighter and president of the parliament, which his Fretilin party dominates.

The vote Wednesday is the final stage of the presidential election. In the first round last month, none of the eight candidates won a majority, forcing a face-off between the two top voter winners.

Analysts say Ramos Horta is the man to beat. The 57-year-old has the backing of the influential Catholic Church and the support of five of the losing candidates from the first round of voting.

Jacob Callar, a teacher at a university in Dili, says whoever wins the largely ceremonial post of president must take steps to end the violence here and create jobs. Half the people here are unemployed.

"Whoever becomes president, the important thing is that first look at the people, give the good security, and guarantee people life. Many people are still in refugee [camps.] Second, fix up the economic [situation] so people from abroad can come to invest in East Timor, so that people can have a job," said Callar.

East Timor descended into chaos a year ago after the sacking of half the armed forces set off fighting among the security forces that plunged into street-gang battles.

Two thirds of the residents of Dili fled to refugee camps, where tens of thousands still remain.

Order was only restored after the government requested an international peacekeeping force, which remains in the country.

East Timor, which voted for independence from Indonesia's 24-year rule in 1999, became fully independent five years ago after several years under the United Nations.

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