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Last Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Ruling party leads E Timor poll
Electoral worker looks at a ballot paper in Dili - 02/03/07
Full results are expected later in the week
Counting in East Timor's parliamentary election has got under way, with early results showing a slight lead for the ruling Fretilin party.

More than 500,000 votes were cast in Saturday's election, which has been hailed as generally free and fair by European Union election monitors.

Fretilin's main challenge is a new party created by independence hero, and recently president, Xanana Gusmao.

Neither party is expected to get an overall majority.

About a third of the votes had been counted by early Monday, and Fretilin was found to have secured 30%, ahead of the 22% for Mr Gusmao's party, election officials said.

Fretilin and Mr Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) have dominated the election for the 65-seat parliament, which will also determine who becomes the country's new prime minister.

Analysts say that CNRT may boost its final vote tally, by picking up votes cast for some of the 12 smaller parties that also ran in the election.

Complete results are expected later in the week.

Fragile peace

The EU election team - which had 36 monitors in districts across the tiny nation - praised the election.

The Timorese people have "chosen for the first time, in a democratic manner and in a generally peaceful atmosphere, their representatives in parliament," the team said.

There had been fears of violence, but campaigning was largely peaceful.

A fragile peace has existed in the impoverished country since violent feuding between rival units in the fledgling army and police forces spilled onto the street last year.

The clashes left more than 30 people dead, forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and led to the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

The Fretilin leader and former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri - who was forced to resign after last year's violence - has accused Mr Gusmao of authoritarian tendencies.

Mr Gusmao used his campaign to tell supporters that Mr Alkatiri had already tried - and failed - to run a successful administration.

Saturday's poll comes a month after former Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta was elected president, vowing to end violence in the young nation.

Mr Gusmao chose not to seek a fresh term as president - a largely ceremonial role - preferring to seek the job of prime minister.

The former Portuguese colony of East Timor broke away from 25 years of Indonesian rule in a 1999 referendum. It was placed under UN protection until it achieved independence in May 2002.

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