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East Timor holds presidential elections

Leadership seen as critical ahead of promised UN pullout.

Fretillin party east timor 2012 3 16Enlarge
Fretilin party supporters ride in a caravan as they campaign for their presidential bet Fernando 'Lu Olo' Guterres, a former guerrilla commander, on March 14, 2012. East Timor was officially recognized as independent in 2002 after 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation. (ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Voting is under way in East Timor, with presidential candidates vying for top post as the nation looks to a historic United Nations (UN) withdrawal after a decade on the island nation, BBC reported

East Timor is one of the world's most impoverished nations. While the presidency is mostly a ceremonial role there, today's vote is seen as critical to its future stability.

Observers say the race is mainly between Nobel Peace Prize winner and current president Ramos Horta, former armed forces chief Taur Matan Ruak (or ''TMR"), and former parliamentary speaker Francisco Guterres ("Lu-Olo"), said BBC, with a total of 12 candidates on the ballot. 

Hundreds queued up before voting areas opened today, Reuters reported, while ABC News said a large number of international monitors had earlier arrived to monitor polling stations.

Provisional results may not be released until Sunday due to delays in getting results from remote areas, Reuters said, with official results set to be announced a week from today. 

More from GlobalPost: East Timor elections: what's at stake

Some 30 people were killed and thousands displaced when violence erupted ahead the country's last presidential election in 2007, BBC reported.

Provided today's vote goes smoothly, some 1,000 UN troops and roughly 400 Australian soldiers are set to pull out of the country at the end of the year.

A new government is set to be elected in June.

East Timor, one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, continues to struggle with gang violence, malnutrition, corrpution, and unemployment, said BBC

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The problems have contributed to East Timor's inability to access its large offshore gas reserves, Reuters reported, noting that development was at a standstill due to a disagreement with an Australian petroleum company.

The eastern island, which is located off the South Asian archipelago, declared independence from Indonesia in 2002 following decades of brutal guerilla warfare that prompted UN intervention. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120317/east-timor-holds-presidential-elections