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East Timor picks a new president

East Timorese went to polls on Wednesday in a presidential run-off election that pits Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta against Parliament Speaker Francisco Guterres.

world Updated: May 09, 2007 14:34 IST

East Timorese went to polls on Wednesday in a presidential run-off election that pits Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta against Parliament Speaker Francisco Guterres.

Campaigning has been remarkably peaceful in the strife-torn country, and both candidates have pledged to abide by the result.

Ramos Horta, a political ally of fellow independent President Xanana Gusmao, came second in first-round balloting a month ago but is tipped to win after receiving endorsements from five of the six first-round losers.

Guterres, candidate of the Fretilin Party that has dominated the half-island's politics since liberation from Portuguese rule in 1975, topped the April 9 poll but failed to get the 50 per cent needed to win the largely ceremonial post outright.

"I will accept the results and there will be no violence," he said after casting his vote.

The presidential election is being closely watched for indications of how next month's general election will go.

Fretilin, which led the 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia that ended with the formation of the new nation in 2002, won 57 per cent of the vote in the first general election, held a few months before formal independence.

Going into the country's second general election, the party holds 55 of the 88 seats in parliament and until last year provided the prime minister.

Mari Alkatiri, East Timor's first prime minister, was forced to stand down and hand over power to Ramos Horta after civil unrest brought anarchy to Southeast Asia's poorest country.

Ramos Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, has promised to accept a Fretilin victory.

Horta and Gusmao hope to switch jobs. Independence war hero Gusmao is standing down as president May 20 so he can run in the June 30 parliamentary elections at the head of a new party, the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) that will try to unseat Fretilin.