Resistance leader promises East Timor peace as presidency beckons

 

A former resistance leader, Taur Matan Ruak, is expected to be declared East Timor's new president today, with early counts from yesterday's second-round poll putting him ahead of the opposition Fretilin Party's candidate, Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres.

Mr Ruak, who has vowed to introduce universal military service in an effort to combat youth unemployment, has the backing of East Timor's charismatic Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao. He also has a chequered past: after rioting took East Timor to the brink of civil war in 2006, the UN said he should be prosecuted for gun-running.

Although the role is largely ceremonial, the president is an influential figure with the capacity to unite the impoverished, volatile nation. If Mr Ruak wins, he will succeed Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who was knocked out in the first round of voting last month.

The election comes as East Timor, prepares to celebrate a decade of independence next month and to hold parliamentary elections in July. United Nations peacekeepers, stationed there since Indonesia ended its 24-year occupation in 1999, are expected to withdraw at the end of this year.

Mr Ruak, 55, a former head of the country's defence force, is relatively new to politics and ran as an independent. He said yesterday: "I am going to do my best... a strong country, rich country and peaceful country is what I want."

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