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East Timor votes for new president in key test

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2012 11:23 AM
East Timor votes for new president in key test

East Timor voted for a new president Saturday in an election that tested the young nation's political stability ahead of the planned departure of U.N. troops later this year.

Incumbent Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was facing off against 11 other candidates.

His biggest challengers were former military chief Taur Matan Ruak, opposition party head Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, and Parliament President Fernando de Araujo.

Preliminary results indicated that no one would secure the 51 percent majority needed to win. Results from all 13 districts were expected to be announced Sunday.

If no one receives an outright majority, the two top vote-getters will move on to a second and final round on April 21.

The president's role is largely ceremonial, but he has the potential to help unify Asia's newest and poorest nation, which is still recovering from a bloody break for independence from Indonesia a decade ago.

Its transition to democracy has at times been rocky.

Leaders have battled massive poverty, social unrest and bitter disputes between soldiers and police that _ just a few years ago _ left dozens dead and resulted in widespread looting, arson and gang warfare.

With the future of the nation in doubt, U.N. and Australian troops were deployed to restore order. If the situation on the ground remains calm, they are scheduled to be out by the year's end.

More than 600,000 of the country's 1.1 million people were expected to vote Saturday.