East Timor election campaign ends with violence

By Tito Belo

DILI, June 27 (Reuters) - A number of people were hurt in clashes between rival political supporters in East Timor on Wednesday as campaigning ended ahead of parliamentary elections in three days time, police and a politician said.

In Saturday's election, a new party led by former President Xanana Gusmao is seeking to break the grip on power held by the ruling Fretilin party since independence five years ago.

Fretilin spokesman Jose Teixeira accused supporters of Gusmao's CNRT party of injuring 17 Fretilin activists by throwing rocks during a rally in Manatuto, east of the capital Dili.

Teixeira, who is also energy minister and a legislative candidate, said another group of Fretilin supporters were also attacked in Dili, leaving four injured and resulting in the closure of the road linking the airport and downtown Dili.

"We demand that the U.N. police immediately investigate these incidents and bring the perpetrators of violence to justice," he said.

The United Nations has 1,700 police to help keep the peace and there is also an Australian-led force of troops.

Police spokesman, Inspector Mateus Fernandes, said authorities were investigating the incidents but did not say how many were hurt or whether the victims were Fretilin members.

"Yes, there were incidents in district Manatuto a few hours ago and also in Dili involving rock throwing," he said

An official at the Dili National Hospital said nine people were injured on the last day of campaigning.

Campaigning got off to a bloody start with the shooting dead of two Gusmao backers in early June, highlighting bitter divisions in the impoverished nation of just 1 million people, but has been relatively peaceful since.


There are 14 parties contesting the poll, but it is widely seen as a showdown between Fretilin and CNRT, a party launched by bearded resistance hero Gusmao who after serving as president now wants the more hands-on post of prime minister.

The poor showing of Fretilin's candidate in the presidential poll has been seen as a vote of disapproval, but analysts do not expect any party to win a clear majority in the 65-seat chamber.

Some Fretilin leaders have been blamed for factional struggles, culminating in a wave of violence last May that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes after the army split along regional lines.

The next government faces huge challenges, particularly how to ease chronic poverty and cut unemployment, both of which have helped encourage a culture of gang violence to flourish.

Much will depend on how it handles the billions of dollars in energy revenue expected to flow its way in coming decades.

About 10 percent of the population also remains displaced, with about 30,000 in camps dotted around the capital, reluctant to go home in the face of sporadic violence, vandalism and arson.

Despite such issues, platforms may have little influence.

"Personalities rather than party platforms are likely to determine the outcome of the parliamentary contest, and no one is offering concrete solutions to the country's many problems", the International Crisis Group said in a recent report.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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