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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 07:11 GMT
Campaigning begins in East Timor
Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta talks to a refugee at the camp
Mr Ramos Horta admits East Timor is still a fragile nation
Campaigning is officially under way for East Timor's presidential election in April - the first since the fledgling nation declared independence in 2002.

Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta is seen as the favourite to win, but he faces seven other candidates.

Due to fears of violence, thousands of police officers have been mobilised to secure polling stations.

Fears of violence mainly centre on the fact that a renegade soldier, Major Alfredo Reinado, is still at large.

He is being hunted by an international security force, but has so far evaded capture, and is said to have some public support.

Weak institutions

The eight candidates are all seeking to replace incumbent President Xanana Gusmao, who has long signalled his intention not to stand for re-election.

All eight have reportedly signed a code of conduct designed to ensure the poll is free, fair and peaceful.

Rogerio Lobato waves to supporters before the start of his trial (9 January 2007)
Mr Lobato's trial was held in East Timor's capital Dili
Atul Khare, who heads the UN mission in East Timor, said it was essential that the campaign was carried out "freely, fairly and without violence, without intimidation and without misuse of state resources."

He also told reporters he was pleased that, so far, voter registration had gone calmly and "without major security incidents".

But there are still concerns about security in this young, impoverished nation, which descended into factional fighting in the middle of last year and had to ask Australian-led peacekeepers to intervene to restore order.

Mr Ramos-Horta admitted on Friday that East Timor was still a fragile country.

"Its institutions are still weak. Poverty is still widespread. Justice has not yet been served," he told the French news agency AFP.

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