New era arrives for East Timor

Winds of change: Supporters cheer for Fretilin Party candidate Francisco Lu Olo Guterres during the final political rally as East Timor prepares to go to the polls. Picture: Getty Images. Source: Getty Images
EAST Timor chooses a new president today, as it prepares to celebrate its first decade of independence.
Either Francisco Guterres "Lu Olo" or Taur Matan Ruak, both heroes of the nation's 24-year war against Indonesian occupation, will replace Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel-laureate who trailed in third place in the March 17 first round.
While the presidency is largely ceremonial, it enjoyed a high profile under Mr Ramos-Horta, and the elections are the first in a series of landmark events this year for the half-island nation of 1.1 million people.
In May, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence, which came after three years of UN administration. On July 7, voters will choose a new government in a general election.
Ameerah Haq, the UN Secretary General's special representative for East Timor, was reported as saying last week that UN peacekeepers, stationed since 1999, would pull out as planned at year's end if both elections remain calm.
The first round of voting was peaceful. But ahead of the run-off at least two homes of political supporters or campaign organisers have been torched and a number of campaign vehicles attacked.
On Friday, about 100 people reportedly pelted stones at Mr Ruak's headquarters in Dili.
Deputy police commander Alfonso de Jesus said that despite the incidents he expected the elections to go smoothly.
Lu Olo, the most popular candidate in last month's poll with close to 29 per cent of the vote, is backed by several first-round candidates.
The softly-spoken 57-year-old, who is known by his nom de guerre and heads the opposition Fretilin party which is synonymous with the resistance, lost the presidency to Mr Ramos-Horta in a run-off vote in 2007.
Mr Ruak, whose name means "piercing eyes" in the local Tetum language, is the former commander of Fretilin's military wing.
The 55-year-old, running as an independent and standing for president for the first time, is backed by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's powerful National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor party. He won about 26 per cent of the first-round vote.
Mr Ruak, who has vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected, is accused by the United Nations of involvement in illegal weapons transfers in 2006, when rioting and factional fighting had the nation on the brink of civil war.
The voting age for Monday's polls is 17, and more than 620,000 are eligible to vote at 850 polling stations nationwide.
By law, provisional results must be announced 48 hours after polls close.

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