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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 April 2007, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
E Timor prepares for key election
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Dili

Electoral officials distribute election ballots and boxes in Dili
Observers say they are confident the election will be smooth
Hundreds of ballot boxes have been distributed to polling stations across East Timor in preparation for the presidential election.

It is the first such vote since the country declared independence from Indonesia five years ago.

The campaign has been marred by minor clashes between supporters and opponents of the ruling Fretilin party.

Eight candidates are contesting the election, including Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

Incumbent Xanana Gusmao, who led East Timor to independence, is stepping down.

East Timor has been in a state of high tension since the capital descended into near anarchy last year after the police and army disintegrated into warring factions.

But international monitors are confident the election will proceed without serious disruptions despite the complaints by some of the candidates of intimidation by rival supporters.

Deep mistrust

An Australian-led military force has been here to stabilise the country since last year and the United Nations has substantially boosted its mission to help conduct this election and the parliamentary elections due to take place later in the year.

Last year's violence was blamed in part on the UN cutting back on its assistance to East Timor too quickly.

Thousands of displaced people still live in camps dotted around the capital, Dili.

Mistrust between residents from the east and west of the country now runs deep and the most difficult challenge facing the next president will be reconciling those differences and getting development moving much faster in what is now ranked among the world's very poorest countries.

The troubles marring East Timor's election

East Timor election 'manipulated'
06 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Poll violence flares in E Timor
30 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Campaigning begins in East Timor
23 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: East Timor
17 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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