Last Updated 08/04/2007, 18:36:20
Police in East Timor have arrested more than 200 people in the lead up to tomorrow's election for a new president.
Anne Barker reports, political leaders have appealed for calm as voters head to the polls.
Dozens of people have been injured in the past two weeks in fighting and other skirmishes connected to the main political parties.
Virtually all 8 presidential candidates have accused rival groups of intimidation or violence in the leadup to the poll.
Police have arrested at least 200 people - although many have been released soon after.
More than five thousand police and international soldiers will be posted around the country tomorrow to protect the vote from violence.
Authorities have banned voters from carrying weapons in or near polling stations.
Police to 'blanket' E Timor violence
Authorities in East Timor are preparing to throw a "security blanket" over the tiny nation, as more than half a million locals head to the polls on Monday to select a new president.
Virtually every police officer in the country, local and international, will be on duty in a bid to calm the situation and prevent a repeat of the occasional violence and intimidation that marred the otherwise colourful two-week election campaign period.
Dozens of people were injured, and hundreds arrested, when rival political supporters clashed sporadically during the campaign.
"I hope, with this security blanket, the election will (proceed) peacefully," United Nations Police deputy commissioner Hermanprit Singh said.
There are eight candidates vying to replace charismatic independence fighter Xanana Gusmao in the largely ceremonial job.
"I believe people will behave very well," said Gusmao, who is not standing for re-election, but is expected to contest national parliamentary elections later this year.
"My hope is that the process can be very democratic and very fair."
Gusmao was speaking as Timorese authorities held a ceremony for the official distribution of the ballot papers across Dili's six sub-districts on Sunday.
Across the remote and mountainous nation, 90 horses, 400 porters, four helicopters and a series of vehicles were on Sunday distributing 600,000 papers to more than 500 polling centres and 700 polling stations ahead of Monday's vote.
Monday's poll is the first to be organised, conducted and supervised by East Timor authorities, and the first presidential poll since it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.
More than 2,200 local and international observers have gathered to witness the vote.
But it is unlikely any of the three frontrunners - major party Fretilin's Franciso Guterres "Lu Olo", current Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta or Democratic Party candidate Fernando "La Sama" de Araujo - will get the majority needed to win.
A run-off poll between the top two contenders is likely next month.
Deputy Commissioner Singh said thousands of police would patrol polling areas "to ensure there are no post-poll clashes between the rival supporters or to minimise such clashes if they were to happen".
He added there was a large number of gang leaders and gang members in custody on other matters who otherwise may have created problems during the poll.
Dili was quiet on Sunday as thousands attended church for Easter Sunday mass.
A letter from East Timor's two bishops to their congregations urged citizens to make a careful choice based on the competency of the candidates to run the country, their honesty and integrity, and their commitment to rebuilding the shattered nation.
"The church places important value on democracy, because democracy provides the opportunity for the nation to elect its own leader," the letter said.
"You should not give your hand to those leaders who only fight for their interests and their ideology to be in power."© 2007 AAP
JOURNAL: Politics in East Timor
David Axe has an excellent series that can provide you a taste for the chaos in East Timor that Australian troops have been sent to quell. Vignettes include low-tech mechanized warfare:
Around here, bikers mean trouble. After all, who rides motorcycles? That’s right: young guys with too much free time and too much energy. The bikers are headed past my hostel and towards the other end of the street, so I follow. At a roundabout they converge, yell at each other some then scatter again. I’m starting to get a feel for what’s happening. This is mechanized political violence. Both sides have armies of dudes on bikes itching to fight. Only the U.N. is keeping them apart.
Last year, a former Timorese police officer, Major Alfredo Reinado, gathered a 600-strong army of disaffected policemen to challenge the government, which was carefully planning for a critical presidential election scheduled for April 9. In recent weeks, Reinado’s force has raided government facilities and stolen weapons.
There are $2-a-day thugs, many of them recruited by the political parties from the city’s refugee camps, roaming the streets, looking for something, anything, to kill.