Subject: Ballot Count Begins in East Timor

Associated Press August 31, 2001

Ballot Count Begins in East Timor


DILI, East Timor (AP) - Electoral officials began counting ballots Friday, a day after East Timor's first free elections.

``All ballot boxes have now safely arrived in the district capitals and the counting process has begun,'' said U.N. chief electoral officer Carlos Valenzuela.

The election of the 88-member assembly that will draft East Timor's constitution is seen as crucial in the process of preparing the half-island territory for independence next year.

``The constitution to be drafted by the assembly represents an extremely important step in the process toward the formation of a self-determined and democratic government,'' U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

International observers hailed Thursday's vote as a success, after thousands of people voted peacefully. Many waited for 4 to 5 hours in the hot sun to cast ballots.

There were no reports of any violent incidents, despite fears of possible clashes between supporters of the 16 parties taking part.

Valenzuela said turnout had been 91 percent.

He said the highest priority of the ballot counters was to ensure the accuracy of the count and make sure that the results could not be traced back to any particular village or polling center.

The bulk of the results were to start coming in during the first half of next week, Valenzuela said.

But there is little doubt that the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, which led the country's independence struggle, would win a comfortable majority and obtain a clear mandate to form the new government.

A new president will be elected after the legislature adopts the national charter.

East Timor will remain under the U.N. transitional administration that has been running the province since it voted to break free of Indonesia exactly two years ago, after more than two decades of military occupation.

The world body is expected to gradually turn the running of the country to the new authorities over the next 6 to 8 months.

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