Subject: AFP: ETimor appeals for peace ahead of vote

Also ABC: E Timor police arrest 200 people; AP: East Timor's fledgling democracy tested in heated presidential vote

Agence France Presse

08/04/07 12h36 GMT+1

AFP News brief

ETimor appeals for peace ahead of vote

by Sebastien Blanc

Politicians in troubled East Timor made an Easter Sunday appeal for peace as police said they had arrested about 200 people in the run-up to Monday's landmark presidential election.

The faithful in the devoutly Roman Catholic nation thronged churches for Easter mass and President Xanana Gusmao appealed in a radio broadcast for a vote free of bloodshed or coercion amid fears for the election's credibility.

"Don't use intimidation, don't use violence to force people to vote for your candidate or other candidates," said the former guerrilla leader, who is not seeking re-election.

"I ask all the candidates in the name of society to accept the result of the election," he said.

The poll is the first for the impoverished nation since gaining independence in 2002.

Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo, one of eight candidates standing for the largely ceremonial post of president and a contender to win, said he did not expect a fair election in the former Portuguese colony.

"I hope that UN police and other defence forces from Australia and New Zealand can work hard to guarantee at least a peaceful day (Monday)," he said after Mass.

Lasama, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, was one of four candidates who on Friday said they feared many attempts had been made to manipulate the election process.

The Fretilin party, who hold a majority in the country's parliament, expressed its own concerns about manipulation, accusing Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a candidate in the presidential vote, of abuse of power for airing an Easter message on state television.

"The programme was structured so as to give the impression that Gusmao and the church endorsed Ramos-Horta's presidential campaign," Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, the party's presidential candidate, said in a statement received Sunday.

About 200 people have been arrested in the weeks ahead of the election, which will be secured by more than 4,000 local and international police backed by peacekeeping troops, officials said Sunday.

Deputy UN police commissioner Hermanprit Singh said that in addition to the arrests, a large number of gang leaders and members remained in custody so they could not cause trouble during the election.

At least 32 people were injured in election-related clashes Wednesday in and around the capital Dili although most of the campaign was peaceful, according to the United Nations.

Monday's vote comes about one month after Australian troops from the international security force in East Timor killed five armed supporters of a renegade soldier, Major Alfredo Reinado, who is still on the loose.

The peacekeepers were dispatched after unrest in May last year that killed at least 37 people and forced more than 150,000 to flee their homes. Intermittent violence blamed on gangs has continued since, and about 37,000 people are still displaced.

Ramos-Horta, who is seen as being in a three-way race with the other favourites, Lasama and Lu-Olo, said the country had reached a crossroads.

"It's a very important moment," the Nobel peace laureate said.

Some voters in the capital expressed support on Sunday for Ramos-Horta but many rural villagers, especially in the country's East, remain solidly behind Fretilin.

Felix Latu, 30, an IT technician, said he would vote for Ramos-Horta because "he will lead this nation to go on to the future," while maintaining good foreign relations.

The fugitive Reinado, criticised for his role in last year's bloody violence, urged voters to peacefully ditch Ramos-Horta, Gusmao, Fretilin and other members of the political establishment.

On Sunday, the United Nations transported ballot papers and other key materials by helicopter to remote areas.

More than 522,000 people are registered to vote.

East Timor gained independence after a period of UN stewardship that followed a bloody 1999 separation from Indonesia, which invaded in 1975.

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ABC News Online

Sunday, April 8, 2007. 7:23pm (AEST)

E Timor police arrest 200 people

Police in East Timor have arrested more than 200 people in the lead-up to tomorrow's election for a new president.

Political leaders have appealed for calm as voters head to the polls.

Dozens of people have been injured in the past two weeks in fighting and other skirmishes connected to the main political parties.

Virtually all eight presidential candidates have accused rival groups of intimidation or violence in the lead-up to the poll.

Police have arrested at least 200 people, although many have been released soon after.

More than 5,000 police and international soldiers will be posted around the country tomorrow to protect the vote from violence.

United Nations (UN) authorities have banned any voters from carrying weapons near a polling station.

Hundreds of ballot boxes have been distributed to polling stations across the country in preparation for the election, the first since the country declared its independence five years ago.

East Timor has been in a state of high tension since the capital Dili descended into chaos last year after the police and army split into warring factions.

Ahead of the poll, some candidates have complained of intimidation by rival supporters.

The UN's deputy head of mission in Dili, Finn-Reske Nielson, says he is optimistic the election will be a fair one.

"Things are in place," he said.

"We have to bear in mind that this is a young country, it's a new democracy, it is the least developed country and with those things also come weak institutions.

"For the Timorese Government to actually pull this off is quite an achievement."

Results from tomorrow's election are unlikely before the end of the week.

Hopes to return home

For tens of thousands of East Timorese who fled their homes last year when the tiny nation descended into chaos, the main hope from Monday's presidential election is that it will allow them to go home.

Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao has said East Timor's presidential poll is a chance to show his young nation is not a failed state.

"I want to return home, but I'm still afraid," said Sofia Rofinus, a 38-year-old former teacher, who has lived in a tent with her five-year-old daughter and husband for almost a year.

At the camp in the capital, children were flying kites in the scorching sun, their hair unkempt and clothes shabby, while older people sat outside their tents to escape the heat inside.

About 150,000 people were driven from their homes last year during violence that erupted after the Government sacked 600 rebellious soldiers.

If no one wins more than half the votes in the poll, there will be a run-off, a scenario some analysts see as likely.

Mr Gusmao, an ally of Ramos-Horta, is not running for re-election but plans to seek the more hands-on post of prime minister in separate parliamentary elections later this year.

"We are ready for the elections, I believe this election will be free and fair," Mr Gusmao said after a ceremony to hand over ballot boxes to officials in Dili, which was calm today as many went to Easter mass in the predominantly Catholic nation.

- ABC/Reuters

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Associated Press

April 8, 2007

East Timor's fledgling democracy tested in heated presidential vote

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer

DILI East Timor

Thousands of people filled East Timor's churches on Easter Sunday, praying for peaceful presidential elections a day later, as ballot boxes were blessed and taken to remote mountain districts by truck, helicopter or on horseback.

Voters hope to end a year of violence and upheaval that threatened to plunge one of the world's youngest and poorest nations into civil war last April and May.

The closely watched election also will test the fledgling state's democracy and ability to survive on its own after breaking from decades of brutal Indonesian rule in 2002.

Januario Marcal, 34, attended a Roman Catholic Mass at Villa Verde Cathedral in the capital, Dili, with his wife and two children. He prayed that the polling would be calm and enable tens of thousands of people to return home after fleeing their neighborhoods last April and May.

"Right now people are crying out for peace and stability in our country," he said. "We are living in fear."

Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had initially been considered a sure winner for the five-year role of president, now held by popular former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. But many experts now say a run-off is almost certain.

If that happens, a second round will follow next month.

East Timor descended into chaos after 600 soldiers were fired, triggering gunbattles between opposing police and army factions that spiraled into gang warfare, looting and general lawlessness. Dozens of people were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes before the collapse of the government.

Though international troops curbed the worst of the violence, analysts say the underlying causes remain unresolved intense political and regional rivalries dating back to Indonesia's 24-year occupation, economic stagnation and a failure to bring to justice perpetrators of past crimes.

That has chipped away at the confidence of some of the 522,000 people eligible to choose Monday between eight candidates.

"We hope the new president can restore peace," said Agustina Ximenes, a 47-year-old teacher who has lived in a shipping container with six of her children for the last year.

Some 2,800 foreign troops and police officers and 3,500 election officials will oversee the nationwide polls. Tensions are expected to be especially high when results are announced Wednesday.

"In this environment things are very polarized. You are either on one side or you are on the other," said election observer Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at the School of International and Political Studies in Victoria, Australia.

"Don't be afraid of intimidation and terror during tomorrow's vote," Father Jose Antonio told churchgoers in his sermon. "Don't vote for a candidate who gives you money, but according to your conscience."

The presidential post is largely ceremonial in East Timor, but analysts see Monday's vote as a trial run for more crucial general elections in June that will determine the composition of a new government and parliament.

It will also gauge public support for a plan by Ramos-Horta and Gusmao who will run for prime minister to seize control of parliament from the powerful left-wing Fretilin party.

Presidential candidate Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo, a leading contender, filed a complaint with election officials accusing the government of abusing its power during the campaign. He and three other candidates also raised concerns that thousands of party observers had been improperly accredited.

"It is difficult to expect a free and fair process," he said, "We don't have anyone at the polling stations to confirm it is democratic."

Associated Press reporters Zakki Hakim and Guido Goulart in Dili contributed to this report.


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