Subject: East Timor raises security before president ceremony

East Timor raises security before president ceremony

DILI, May 17 (Reuters) - Police in East Timor have arrested 17 people in connection with clashes between martial arts groups as the tiny nation tightens security ahead of the swearing-in of its new president, a senior police official said on Thursday.

Nineteen people were injured in the clashes that began in Dili on Tuesday and continued into the next day when six houses and two cars were burnt -- although officials said it was not clear if the violence was linked to last week's presidential run-off.

Nobel peace prize winner and current prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta, who swept the run-off with nearly 70 percent of the votes, will be sworn in as the country's second president at a ceremony in Dili on Sunday.

His victory has raised hopes of greater stability in a nation still struggling to heal divisions five years after it won independence from Indonesia.

"We have captured 17 suspects and we are trying to reconstruct the incident in order to bring justice," police operational commander Mateus Fernandes told Reuters.

Local and U.N. police have stepped up patrols in and outside Dili to prevent further violence as tensions between rival political groups continue to simmer.

"I have told all political leaders in this country that violence justified as political is unacceptable," the special representative of the U.N. secretary general in East Timor, Atul Khare, told a news conference.

"They all agreed that any persons committing criminal acts who claim to be party supporters should be put in jail," he said. "I am confident the new president, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, will energetically tackle the problems facing the country."

Violence erupts sporadically in East Timor, but the run-off between Ramos-Horta and parliament chief Francisco Guterres, president of the dominant Fretilin party, was peaceful.

Guterres conceded defeat and urged his supporters to accept the result.

International observers said the presidential run-off was conducted freely and fairly, after the first round a month ago was marred by complaints of widespread irregularities.

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesian rule in a violence-marred referendum in 1999. It became fully independent in 2002 after a period of U.N. administration.

Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao will now run for the more hands-on post of prime minister in parliamentary polls on June 30.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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