04/06/2007, 00.00
EAST TIMOR
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Election campaign ends as East Timorese get set to go to the poll to pick next president

Calm returns to the country after factional clashes. Presidential elections will take place next Monday. Nobel Prize winner Ramos Horta and Fretilin leader Francisco Guterres are favoured. Catholic Church tells faithful to choose “with conscience” and unexpectedly picks a former student activist, Fernando 'Lasama' de Araujo, as its choice.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After a tense campaign East Timorese are getting ready to go to the polls on April 9 to elect their new president. About 30 people were hurt in clashes between supporters of the different candidates. United Nations police had to intervene several times to re-establish order. In one incident they had to fire warning shots when two of its agents were injured.

Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao blamed the violence on the ruling Fretilin, the political movement that led the resistance to Indonesia’s occupation for 25 years that ended in 2002 with independence. Fretilin rejected the charges.

Some 523,000 voters in the young, predominantly Catholic nation will choose the president from an eight-candidate list in one of the more than 700 polling stations.

The winner will replace Xanana Gusmao, the country’s historic leader in the anti-Indonesian struggle. Mr Gusmao instead will run in the June parliamentary elections vying for the post of prime minister.

Current Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister, the Noble Prize laureate José Ramos Horta, is one of the frontrunners to succeed Gusmao. Fretilin leader and current Parliamentary Speaker Francisco Guterres is another.

Dili’s and Baucau’s Catholic bishops have urged priests not to make any partisan choice, but they did urge the faithful “to vote and choose with their conscience” the new leader of the country.

However, the representative of the Church on the Electoral Commission came out unexpectedly in favour of the third frontrunner, former resistance fighter Fernando 'Lasama' de Araujo, who spent six years in Indonesian jails.

Last year at least 37 people died and 150,000 fled their homes as a result of inter-ethnic conflict when 600 soldiers, who complained of ethnic discrimination, were dismissed.

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