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Ramos-Horta Pledges to Unite East Timor as Vote Count Shows Landslide Victory

  • Heda Bayron

In East Timor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta pledged to unite his fractured nation after a landslide victory in Wednesday's presidential election. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Jose Ramos-Horta won 69 percent of the ballots cast in Wednesday's polls. His opponent, Francisco Guterres, the head of the Fretilin party, got 31 percent.

Guterres accepted defeat Friday and said he will bow to the will of the people.

Mr. Ramos-Horta said he would unite the nation after the political upheaval that, over the past year, has killed several people and displaced thousands in the tiny nation.

"The people - I owe them everything and what I owe them is consistency, loyalty in working with everybody to uphold justice, to enhance democracy, to work for the poor of this country, to heal wounds," he said.

East Timor broke free from Indonesian rule in 1999 under a United Nations-supervised vote and achieved formal independence in 2002.

But the world's newest nation has struggled with widespread poverty and political unrest since then.

In March last year, fighting broke out among security forces after nearly half of the army was fired. An international peacekeeping force arrived nearly a year ago after the government requested help to maintain order.

The polls Wednesday were peaceful. Japan, New Zealand and Australia welcomed the results.

Although the role of president is largely ceremonial, Joaquim Fonseca, a human rights activist in East Timor, says Mr. Ramos-Horta may be able to stabilize the country.

"One strength that he has is that he's accepted by most groups which is important here now …. That means that he will be able to communicate with all parties to the conflict and try to build a bridge," he said.

Mr. Ramos-Horta will formally take office on May 20, succeeding former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao. Mr. Gusmao is expected to run for the powerful post of prime minister in parliamentary elections next month.

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