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Sunday, 14 April, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Gusmao set to win Timor vote
Xanana Gusmao casts his vote as his opponent Francisco do Amaral looks on
Xanana Gusmao may get 80% support or more
Voting has ended in East Timor's first presidential election, in what is seen as the final step before the territory becomes the world's newest independent country.

Chief electoral officer Carlos Valenzuela proclaimed the vote a success, after provisional estimates suggested a turnout of 86%.

Independence hero Xanana Gusmao is widely expected to win a landslide victory.

Xanana Gusmao (left) and his only challenger, Francisco do Amaral
Francisco do Amaral (r) says he is only standing to give the voters a choice
The former guerrilla leader was accompanied by his opponent Francisco Xavier do Amaral when he cast his ballot at a polling station in the capital, Dili, to applause from onlookers.

Reflecting the good nature of the campaign, the two men embraced before voting one after the other in the poll which is East Timor's last step to independence after centuries of foreign domination - first by Portugal and, since 1975, by Indonesia.

Mr Gusmao, 55, is virtually assured of victory, with Mr Amaral saying he is standing merely to give the 430,000 registered voters a choice.

A woman votes in the East Timor presidential election
People appreciate the chance to vote after centuries of colonisation
Voting started slowly on Sunday morning (2200 GMT on Saturday), but picked up significantly as people went to polling stations after attending church to celebrate Mass.

Polling stations were due to close at 1600 (0700 GMT) on Sunday, but electoral officials said voters already in the queue were still casting their ballots after this time.

Counting is due to begin on Monday and results are expected later in the week.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Dili says the election seems to have gone ahead very smoothly, with no reports of any serious trouble.

Determined

Mr Valenzuela said earlier that all 933 polling stations across East Timor were operating smoothly.

He admitted that he had been surprised by the early absence of voters in Dili which contrasted with the long lines outside regional booths.


AP photo: Traditional East Timorese dancers during a rally for presidential candidate Francisco Xavier do Amaral
Key facts:
  • President to serve for five years
  • New parliament already elected
  • Independence on 20 May
    See also:
      Profile of East Timor

  • But crowds soon built up in Dili and Mr Valenzuela said people had been voting in a steady stream throughout the country.

    Election observers were relaxed and the United Nations said it expected no trouble.

    The BBC's Richard Galpin says free and fair elections are not something to be taken for granted by the people of East Timor after decades of struggle against oppressive Indonesian rule.

    The vote paves the way for East Timor and its 740,000 population to become the world's newest country on 20 May, when the United Nations administration formally hands over power.

    Independence battle

    The pro-independence party, Fretilin, won 57% of a preliminary vote last August and will lead the new parliament from May.

    Mr Gusmao led Fretilin's military wing in the battle for independence from Indonesia, but has since distanced himself from the party and is running as an independent.

    Mr Amaral proclaimed the Democratic Republic of East Timor in 1975 shortly after the Portuguese colonial administrators withdrew from the territory they had run for more than 450 years.

    But the republic, and Mr Amaral's presidency, was short-lived. The Indonesians invaded East Timor only a few days later.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Richard Galpin reports from Dili
    "Everyone seemed aware of the significance of what they were doing"
    Presidential candidate Xanana Gusmao
    "I hope I will be able to do something for them [the people]"
    East Timor journalist Irena Cristalis
    "The people of East Timor are really looking forward to finally have their independence"
    See also:

    04 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Gusmao calls East Timor refugees home
    09 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Wiranto attacks Timor trials as 'unfair'
    26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Australia pledges $3m to East Timor
    25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
    E Timor, Indonesia sign accords
    21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    East Timor launches truth commission
    12 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
    East Timor's timetable for change
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