04/10/2007, 00.00
EAST TIMOR
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Peace Prize laureate Ramos-Horta appears to be leading in vote

Yesterday’s elections went off without a hitch. Preliminary results indicate that no candidate will win on the first ballot. The ruling Fretilin party seems to have lost; its candidate Guterres is only third.

Dili (AsiaNews) – Vote counting is underway in East Timor following yesterday’s presidential elections. Contrary to expectations no clashes were reported and turnout was heavy. All indications suggest that none of the eight candidates has won an absolute majority, forcing a run-off vote in May. Official results are not expected to be released before April 16.

Preliminary results from Dili district show that current Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led the pack with about 30 per cent of the vote, trailed by Church-backed Fernando "Lasama" De Araujo, a former political prisoner under Indonesian ruler, with 25 per cent of the vote.

Even though results are only tentative, the country's largest national daily, Suara Timor Lorosae, stressed the defeat of the ruling Fretilin, whose candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, is only in third position.

If no one reaches 50 per cent, a second round will take place on May 9 between the two top contenders.

In June parliamentary elections will take place. Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao is running to become the next prime minister.

For more than 300 years, East Timor was a Portuguese colony before it was invaded by Indonesia in 1976.

After 25 years of fighting the Indonesian occupiers, East Timorese voted on independence in a United Nations-sponsored referendum in 1999. Officially, the small country became independent in 2002 but it has remained politically unstable ever since. At present, there are 3,000 international peacekeepers that maintain law and order.

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