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Volatile East Timor Votes for New President


East Timorese voted Wednesday for a new president, with many hoping a peaceful election will bring stability to their troubled nation. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the capital Dili and brings us this report.

Hundreds of people lined up at the crack of dawn Wednesday polling stations in the East Timor capital of Dili to cast their ballot for a new president.

Voters were choosing between the outgoing prime minister and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta and the former independence fighter, speaker of Parliament and president of the ruling Fretilin party, Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres.

The two men received the most votes during the first round of presidential elections a month ago. Because neither won an outright majority, a second round of voting was required.

Presidential candidate Lu'Olo spoke with reporters shortly after casting his ballot in Dili. He says this election will determine the future of East Timor and its people.

While there were no major incidents of violence during the election campaign, people here are still traumatized by fighting that broke out a year ago after nearly half the security forces were fired.

The violence involving the security forces nearly toppled the government after it spiraled into anarchy, with gangs battling in the streets. Around two-thirds of the residents of Dili fled to makeshift refugee camps, where tens of thousands still remain today.

Order was restored after the government requested an international peacekeeping force. The peacekeepers remain in Dili, helping to maintain a fragile peace.

Antonio Alvez, a priest in this largely Catholic nation, sums up the feelings of many East Timorese.

"I hope we just try to elect the best man to look after our country. We only need peace. I don't care about poverty, about what we eat, what (we) dress but just I want when I go to bed, I want to sleep in peace," he said. "We are tired of war, enough, for 25 years, war, war, war!"

East Timor is one of the poorest nations in Asia, and half the population is unemployed. Many thought independence five years ago would bring prosperity, but so far, many people remain mired in poverty.

East Timorese voted to break from Indonesia's harsh 24-year rule in 1999 but full independence was only achieved in 2002 after several years under U.N. supervision.

Most people here believe peaceful elections will bring stability and allow East Timor to continue the task of building a democratic nation.

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