Subject: AGE: Rivals for Timor vote accuse PM of tricks

Rivals for Timor vote accuse PM of tricks

Lindsay Murdoch Dili April 8, 2007

LEADING candidates in East Timor's presidential election have accused each other of manipulating tomorrow's vote as officials race to deliver ballot papers to 500 polling centres, many of them in remote villages.

The ruling Fretilin party claimed yesterday that Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta had manipulated state-owned television to make a final pitch to voters for the presidency of the troubled nation.

Earlier, four candidates including frontrunner Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo claimed that their campaigns were being damaged by intimidation, violence, and manipulation in the issuing of scrutineer passes for polling centres.

Fretilin's candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, said Mr Ramos Horta's TV appearance on Friday evening with outgoing President Xanana Gusmao and Dili Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva was an abuse of power.

"The program was structured so as to give the impression that Gusmao and the church endorsed Ramos Horta's presidential campaign," Mr Guterres said.

During the broadcast Mr Ramos Horta told Timorese, most of whom are Catholic, that the day after Resurrection Sunday "we will see the resurrection of democracy for East Timor".

More than 500,000 registered voters will chose their head of state from eight candidates tomorrow in the first election run by East Timor since independence five years ago. Campaigning has been marred by violence, but 1600 United Nations police and 1120 Australian and New Zealand troops have moved quickly to prevent more fighting.

With none of the candidates likely to win a majority, a second run-off election is expected in a month.

Mr Ramos Horta had criticised influential priest Martinho Gusmao, the church's representative on the electoral commission, for publicly endorsing Mr de Araujo.

Father Martinho told journalists last week that priests and bishops in 200 churches would not endorse any candidate during Masses today, but they were free to speak their minds outside the church walls.

The UN mission in Dili has provided helicopters to deliver ballot boxes to remote polling centres, many of which are cut off during the current wet season. The result is not expected to be announced for several days.

Once a president is elected, East Timor must hold parliamentary elections within two months.

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