East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao has declared his intention to run for president next year a job he has said in the past that he does not want. The former guerilla commander made his announcement less than a week before the East Timorese go to the polls to elect a national assembly a body charged with writing East Timor's first Constitution.

Hundreds of people cheer the declaration by Xanana Gusmao that he will be a candidate for the presidency of East Timor. Mr. Gusmao first addressed the crowd in East Timor's native dialect, Tetum. He then repeated his declaration in English but called East Timor by its Tetum name, Timor Loro S'ae. "I declare here now that I will accept to be nominated by the parties to the office of the president of the people of the Republic Timor Loro S'ae if the same parties commit themselves to accept the outcome of elections" Mr. Gusmao said.

But Mr. Gusmao also made some requests to the party leaders. "This means that each party must promote through their structures at the grassroots level the policy of tolerance and of mutual respect in the democratic spirit which we are all engaged in developing," he said.

Mr. Gusmao made the declaration after a debate between the 18 political parties running for seats in East Timor's Constituent Assembly in ballot to be held August 30.

The Constituent Assembly is widely expected to call a presidential election early next year in which Mr. Gusmao would now be a candidate. So far, Mr. Gusmao has not affiliated himself with any political party.

A former guerrilla commander, Mr. Gusmao fought in the jungles of East Timor for 18 years against Indonesia's military occupation imposed after Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

Mr. Gusmao was later arrested and imprisoned by Indonesian forces. But he was released after East Timor voted overwhelming for independence from Indonesia in a 1999 ballot that was supervised by the United Nations.

Since then, Mr. Gusmao has repeatedly said that he did not want to be East Timor's first president. But analysts say his popularity with the East Timorese people is so huge that he would not be able to avoid joining the race.

East Timor is currently under the administration of the United Nations. It will achieve full independence early next year.