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East Timorese Commemorate Good Friday as Campaign Period Officially Ends

Thousands of East Timorese attended church services to commemorate Good Friday as the nation's presidential campaign period officially ends. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in the capital Dili has more.

Thousands of East Timorese gathered outside packed churches, standing in the pouring rain to listen as Catholic mass was held to commemorate Good Friday.

The day also ends the election campaign period. Most of the eight presidential hopefuls refrained from campaigning to observe the religious holiday in this predominately Catholic country.

The mood in the capital was somber, with most businesses closed to observe the holiday.

Evangelino Viegas Tilman says he is looking forward to the elections but has little faith that any of the candidates can end the violence that has plagued the tiny nation for nearly a year. He says during the campaign period all of the candidates say the right things, but after elections he doubts any will follow through on their promises.

Four of the candidates read a statement expressing fears violence would occur during the Monday's election, and complained of attempts to manipulate the vote.

Acting Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta, who also is running for the largely ceremonial role of president, made a call for peace earlier in the day.

"The president asked us to be here today, being the conclusion of the election campaign period, to appeal to our nation for calm, for serenity, as we approach the date of April 9," he said.

Although there has been sporadic violence in the lead-up to Monday's vote, the United Nations' special representative in East Timor has noted that most of the campaigning has been peaceful.

East Timor's government nearly collapsed last May after the firing of 600 soldiers led to widespread rioting that killed more than 30 people. The violence forced nearly three-quarters of Dili's residents into makeshift refugee camps where thousands remain.

A semblance of order was only restored after the government appealed for an international peacekeeping force that remains in the country.

Since then, sporadic violence has continued to destabilize the fledgling nation, where unemployment remains high.

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999 after 24 years of brutal rule.

After three years of United Nations administration, the country became fully independent in 2002. The current president, Xanana Gusmao, decided not to run again, but has indicated he MAY run for the more powerful position of prime minister later.

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