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U.N. Certifies Gusmao Landslide, East Timor Nears Independence

According to the U.N. election team, Gusmao garnered 82.7 percent of the 378,548 ballots cast in Sunday’s election, easily outdistancing his opponent, Legislative Assembly Vice President Xavier do Amaral, who won just 17.3 percent of the votes.

The head of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, congratulated Gusmao on his electoral victory, but cautioned the work of building the world’s newest independent nation had just begun.

“As the first president of an independent East Timor, I trust that Xanana Gusmao will devote his infinite energy and will to fulfilling the noble pledges he made during the campaign,” he said.

Gusmao, in a joint press conference with his defeated opponent, spoke of a need to unify the nation.

“It is with enormous gratitude and humility that I received the trust that the people have put in me,” Gusmao told reporters. “The next five years will constitute a great challenge… not only for our government but also for all of civil society and all the democratic institutions of our country.”

With Gusmao’s election, the last major democratic institution was put in place ahead of East Timor’s independence. The Legislative Assembly — elected last August — will transform itself into a National Parliament on May 20, and the new East Timor Government will be sworn in the same day.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council congratulated the people of East Timor on a successful election.

“These elections represent a historic milestone on East Timor’s remarkable journey towards independence,” the current president of the council, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, said in a statement. “The council now looks forward to celebrating the declaration of independence on 20 May and to welcoming East Timor into the international community of nation states.”

Indonesia, the country East Timor seceded from in a bloody referendum in 1999, also publicly welcomed the vote.

“On behalf of the government of Indonesia and myself, I have extended our congratulations to president-elect Xanana Gusmao,” Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told Reuters in Jakarta. “At the same time we congratulate East Timor for the very successful election process that was democratic and peaceful.”

A runaway favorite in the months before the election, Gusmao was widely expected to win the presidential vote. The 56-year-old Gusmao joined East Timor’s independence movement in 1974, when the territory was still a Portuguese colony. The East Timorese began to form their own government when Portugal withdrew from the area in 1975, but that effort was snuffed out only days later when neighboring Indonesia invaded citing security in the region.

Gusmao and others mounted heavy resistance throughout Indonesia’s occupation of the area. He was captured in 1992 and held in Indonesia until his release in 1999.

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