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Horta Has Unassailable Lead in East Timor Presidential Election

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta appears to have won the presidential election in East Timor, a vote that has been widely viewed as peaceful and fair. Barry Kalb reports from the VOA Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Even before all the ballots were counted, Mr. Ramos Horta, the popular and charismatic prime minister, had more than enough votes to win handily - almost three times as many as his opponent, Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres.

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

Both elections have run smoothly and without violence, raising hopes the troubled country may at last be heading toward stability.

"It's been very peaceful so far and we would be hoping that peace extends for the counting period and the acceptance of votes," said Allison Cooper, the spokeswoman for the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor.

Guterres, who is speaker of the parliament and head of the Fretilin Party, earlier indicated that he had no intention of challenging the vote count if he lost.

The former independence fighter says whether he wins or loses, he will accept the results of the presidential elections with dignity.

East Timor's voters have been hoping the election will help bring an end to the political and social upheaval of the past year.

In February of 2006, fighting broke out among the security forces after nearly half the army was fired. In the violence that followed, around two-thirds of the residents of the capital, Dili, were forced into refugee camps, where tens of thousands still remain.

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

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

Analysts say that if all these elections 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 rule in 1999, but did not achieve full independence until 2002, after several years under U.N. supervision.