Violence broke out at the end of campaigning in East Timor’s Presidential elections, as political rivals clashed in the streets of the country’s capital Dili. United Nations peacekeepers, along with police, helped break up clashes in which thirty people were hurt.
UN troops have been in place since 1999 after violence marred the impoverished country’s transition to independence. The vote is scheduled for Monday and, given the tiny state’s chaotic past, the election process has so far been relatively peaceful.
East Timor has a population of just one million people, and became fully independent in 2002, following 25 years of Indonesian government after Portugal ended colonial rule in 1975. As current President Xanana Gusmao steps down, its Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, has emerged as the leading candidate to replace him.
The 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a key figure in East Timor’s campaign for independence, has stated that his priorities, if he is elected, are to consolidate peace and democracy and increase co-operation with Australia. The other front-runner has been current parliamentary chief Francisco Gutteres.
Gutteres, nicknamed Lu-olo, is the candidate from the ruling Fretilin party. The peaceful run-up to the election has been a welcome relief for the organisers as the population considers who will become only their second head of state. Residents of the capital Dili have spoken of their anticipation of a new president and hope that whoever is selected can improve the country’s situation.