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Counting Underway in East Timor Vote


Counting is underway a day after East Timorese voted for a new government in a key election many hope will bring stability to the troubled nation. VOA correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the capital, Dili, and brings us this report.

Election officials began counting the votes from Saturday's parliamentary elections in all of East Timor's districts except the capital.

Counting delays in Dili were caused by the large number of voters in the capital. Because the contents of the ballot boxes must be verified before counting begins, election official Edgar Segueira Martins says the count in Dili will be slightly delayed.

"So far we [are] still in the first step of [the] counting process because Dili, you know, we got more voters here. Probably tomorrow, or maybe we finish soon[er] tonight, we'll start with counting," he said.

The vote was generally peaceful, raising hopes this election will help end the violence that has plagued this impoverished nation over the past year.

Fighting between the security forces broke out after around a third of the army was fired. The strife deteriorated into gang fighting, looting, and arson.

The violence forced around two thirds of the residents of Dili into improvised refugee camps where thousands still live in miserable conditions.

The recently elected president and Nobel Laureate, Jose Ramos Horta, says helping the internally displaced, known as IDPs, return home, or at least improve the camp conditions, will be a priority of the new government.

"With the new government, we will be able to move more proactively in resolving the IDP's situation, but also we have to be realistic, and many probably will stay in the camps. We will have to improve the conditions in the camps so that those who for some reason do not want to leave yet are in a slightly better condition in the camps," said Mr. Harta.

In all, 14 parties are vying to control the 65-seat parliament, but the two top contenders are the ruling Fretilin party and the new CNRT party led by the charismatic independence hero and former president, Xanana Gusmao.

Analysts say it is unlikely either party will win an outright majority. The winner will likely have to form a coalition government with other parties.

Preliminary results are not expected until later next week.

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