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Ramos Horta Winning in East Timor Presidential Elections

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta has taken the lead in the East Timor presidential elections, a vote that has been widely viewed as peaceful and fair. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the capital Dili and brings us this report.

Early vote counting on Thursday showed the popular and charismatic prime minister, Jose Ramos Horta, held a significant lead in East Timor's presidential election.

His opponent, Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres, is the speaker of the parliament and head of the Fretilin party.

The former independence fighter says whether he wins or loses, he will accept the results of the presidential elections with dignity. The results should be announced in the next few days.

Last month, none of the eight presidential candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, requiring Wednesday's run-off between the two top contenders.

East Timor has been traumatized by political and social upheaval over the past year.

A year ago, fighting broke out among the security forces after nearly half the army was fired. The violence descended into chaos and street gang fighting forcing around two-thirds of the residents of Dili into refugee camps, where tens of thousands still remain.

So far, both presidential elections have run smoothly and without violence, raising hopes the country may at last be heading toward stability.

Allison Cooper is the spokeswoman for the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor.

"It's been very peaceful so far and we would be hoping that peace extends for the counting period and the acceptance of votes," she said.

An international peacekeeping force has been in the country since last year after the government requested help in restoring and maintaining order.

East Timorese will go to the polls again next month for the more important parliamentary elections. Xanana Gusmao, the country's departing president and a popular former independence fighter, will run for the powerful position of prime minister.

Analysts say all the elections are important because if they are fair and peaceful, it will help bring stability to this impoverished nation, which has been struggling to build its democracy.

East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia's harsh 24-year rule in 1999 but did not achieve full independence until 2002 after several years under U.N. supervision.