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East Timor independence leader dies ahead of election

Agence France Presse - March 7, 2012

East Timor's first and shortest-serving president Francisco Xavier do Amaral died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, a presidential spokesman said.

The popular veteran of the nation's resistance struggle against Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation died aged 74 in a hospital in the capital Dili. He had been one of the candidates in the fledgling nation's March 17 presidential election.

"The nation is mourning the loss of Xavier. He was our party's first president and our first president of the Republic," the spokesman told AFP.

Following a brief civil war in 1975, Amaral declared independence for East Timor, a tiny half island nation that sits around 600 kilometres (370 miles) northwest of Australia's Darwin city. He was appointed president, a position he held only for nine days before neighbouring Indonesia invaded the territory, forcing him to flee to the mountains.

Amaral fought with the guerrillas from the Falantil, the military wing of the Fretilin party, until he was captured by Indonesian troops in 1979 and taken to Indonesia's Bali island, where he was kept under loose house arrest.

"He fought hard for all East Timorese people and will be remembered as a persistent fighter for East Timor's independence and freedom," the spokesman said.

Former guerilla commander and the Fretilin party's presidential candidate Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres said that Amaral served his country throughout his life even when in exile in Indonesia.

"He was a true politician for the people, who fought for the justice and freedom all of his life. To this end, in this presidential campaign his platform was democracy and the greater rights of all East Timorese," he said.

The March 17 presidential election will be the second since the nation was officially recognised as independent in 2002.