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Presidential Polls Close in East Timor - 2002-04-14

Early results in East Timor's election indicate former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao has won nearly 80 percent of the vote. The presidential election is the last step before East Timor gains independence.

Early tallies from East Timor's capital Dili show that Xanana Gusmao has well more than half the vote. United Nations officials say other districts in East Timor will post their results Tuesday, and the winner will be announced Wednesday.

Roughly 440,000 people are estimated to have voted Sunday in East Timor's first presidential election. That is roughly 86 percent of the eligible voters.

Mr. Gusmao's strong lead is hardly surprising. An enormously popular former guerrilla leader, Mr. Gusmao was heavily favored to win. Many East Timorese credit him with the victory in their struggle for independence.

Mr. Gusmao's only competitor in the poll said before the election that he expected to lose.

U.N. political affairs official Colin Stewart says the presidential election is an important step toward forming East Timor's first government. "And by no means is it symbolic, it's an important step of letting the people choose their president, which is the most important institution, democratic institution. And from that point on they're ready for independence. Everything's in place for independence after this," Mr. Stewart said.

Sunday's election was the third time the East Timorese have gone to the polls in recent years. Last August, they elected a Constituent Assembly. Two years earlier, they voted to break free of Indonesian rule in a U.N.-supervised referendum, prompting anti-independence militia groups to rampage throughout the territory in a two-week campaign of terror.

The violence marked the end to 24 years of sometimes brutal rule in East Timor by Indonesia, which invaded in 1975, after Portugal ended its colonial administration.

East Timor is to achieve full independence on May 20th, when the United Nations formally ends its role as the territory's administrator.