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Vote Counting Underway in East Timor

Vote counting is underway in East Timor after the territory held its first free election on Thursday. East Timorese went to the polls to elect a constituent assembly that will be writing a constitution for the former colony as it moves toward full independence.

U.N. officials say all ballot boxes have arrived in district capitals across East Timor and the vote counting process has begun. Just under 99 percent of East Timorese voters turned out for Thursday's election.

U.N. officials say so far only a handful of technical irregularities with the vote have been reported. They declared the election a success shortly before all polling stations closed on Thursday.

The peaceful atmosphere across East Timor contrasted sharply with the last time people went to the polls and voted to break away from Indonesian rule. Anti-independence militia groups, backed by elements of the Indonesia military, then seized control of East Timor after the independence referendum. They launched a campaign of murder and destruction, prompting the deployment of international peacekeepers.

The destruction marked the end of Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor that started with its 1975 invasion.

The East Timorese casts their ballots for an 88-member constituent assembly. The body will have 90 days to write East Timor's first constitution, which is expected to be based on a presidential system. Full independence is expected to be achieved early next year. Sixteen different parties ran in the election. Fretilin, the party linked to East Timor's independence army, is expected to dominate the assembly.