Subject: AFP: World praise for East Timor's peaceful poll

Agence France Presse

World praise for East Timor's peaceful poll


DILI, East Timor, Aug 31

East Timorese won world praise Friday for their peaceful and hugely enthusiastic response to the territory's first free election.

Final turnout in Thursday's ballot was 91 percent, the United Nations' chief electoral officer, Carlos Valenzuela. said.

From 16 parties and five independent candidates, voters were choosing an 88-member constituent assembly.

The assembly will draft a constitution and become the national parliament by early December, in preparation for independence by mid-2002.

Polling was tranquil with only minor incidents involving crowds agitated by slow identification procedures, Valenzuela said.

Provisional results are expected by September 5 but will not be confirmed until September 10.

The party at the core of East Timor's 24-year resistance struggle against Indonesian rule, Fretilin, is expected to dominate the polls. It is predicting around 85 percent of the votes.

Some 500 foreign observers joined 1,000 local observers in monitoring the vote. The largest of the foreign observer groups, the 40-strong European Union team, assessed the poll as "totally" free and fair.

"We congratulate the East Timorese for how they showed their democratic intentions and for the peaceful manner in which they conducted this election," Wolfgang Kreissel-Doerfler, the EU'S chief observer, told AFP.

"We have received no information of serious incidents or shortcomings concerning the conduct of elections."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer congratulated the East Timorese for successfully holding free and peaceful elections, saying they opened the way for democracy and lasting stability.

The European Union congratulated the people of East Timor and their leaders, "who have embarked upon a long independence process, now bringing its reward."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hailed the vote as a "glowing example to the world community."

The United States also welcomed the spirit in which the poll was conducted.

"Early reports indicate a very smooth and peaceful process and an extremely high voter turnout. Many voters waited for hours in the hot sun for their turn to cast a ballot," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday.

The poll brings the impoverished territory a crucial step closer to independence after more than four centuries of oppressive rule by foreign powers.

Portugal's colonial rule wound down in 1974. In December 1975, nine days after East Timorese leaders declared independence, Indonesia invaded.

An estimated 200,000 East Timorese died under Jakarta's 24-year rule, which came to a violent end two years ago after a UN-organised plebiscite.

Almost 80 percent of East Timorese voted in the August 1999 ballot to break away from Indonesia, triggering a wave of killing and systematic destruction by Indonesian-backed local militias.

On Thursday the East Timorese came out again to vote, many casting their ballots in buildings still in ruins after the 1999 violence.

They will return to the polls early next year to elect a president, widely expected to be independence hero Xanana Gusmao.

Full independence will be granted either when the president is announced or shortly after.

Nobel peace laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo, the Bishop of Dili, has called the poll part of a "journey from slavery to liberation and independence."

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