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Troubled East Timor goes to the polls to elect president

Troubled East Timor goes to the polls to elect president

Voting began Wednesday in presidential elections in East Timor, a critical step in Asia's newest nation following violence last year that took it to the brink of civil war.
Around 500,000 people are eligible to vote in the polls, which pit Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta against Fransisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, an ex-guerrilla who spent years in the jungles fighting Indonesian rule.
Hundreds of people lined up since before dawn at polling booths in the capital Dili. Voting began soon after 0700 a.m local time (2200 GMT Tuesday), with polling staff give the first chance to cast ballots.
The vote follows balloting last month that ended without an outright winner.
Most analysts see Ramos-Horta _ who fled East Timor during the occupation to became the international face of its freedom movement _ as the favorite, especially since five losing candidates in the first round of voting are urging their supporters to back him.
But Guterres, 52, is backed by Fretilin, the political party of the nation's former armed resistance to Jakarta's rule. It traditionally has strong support across the country and a powerful party machine.
East Timor broke free from 24 years of often brutal Indonesian rule in 1999 following a violence-plagued independence referendum. The bloodshed only stopped with the arrival of international peacekeepers.
The country was administered by the United Nations until 2002, and descended into chaos last year after then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri fired a third of the army following a mutiny, provoking gunbattles between rival security forces that spiraled into gang warfare and looting.
At least 37 people were killed and some 155,000 fled their homes before the government collapsed. A 1,200-strong Australian-led peacekeeping force has since restored order and, along with a similar-sized contingent of U.N. police officers, now provides national security.