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In video message, Annan urges East Timorese to vote in upcoming elections

In video message, Annan urges East Timorese to vote in upcoming elections

In advance of the 30 August elections in East Timor, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the Timorese people to exercise their right and responsibility to vote, and assured them that the United Nations and its agencies were supporting their "heroic efforts" to rebuild their lives.

In a video message that is being aired in East Timor prior to the elections for the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Annan told the Timorese people that two years after the popular consultation and the terrible violence that came afterwards, the eyes of the world were on them once again.

"A spirit of peace and tolerance has marked the election campaign," he said. "You have clearly embraced the democratic process with great integrity and zeal."

In urging the Timorese to vote, Mr. Annan said that in a democracy, it was both their right and responsibility. "I also hope you will tell your families, friends and neighbours to vote. All your voices must be heard," he said.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), Sergio Vieira de Mello, opened today a seminar in Dili that focussed on ensuring that women's rights are protected in the future East Timorese constitution.

Organized by the Gender and Constitution Working Group, the meeting drew some 50 women participants, including candidates for the 30 August Constituent Assembly elections and representatives of national and international organizations, to discuss a "Women's Charter of Rights in East Timor" consisting of 10 proposed constitutional articles of special relevance to women.

In his opening statement, Mr. Vieira de Mello commended the working group's activities and reiterated his support for women's rights. Referring to an ongoing effort to collect signatures in favour of the Charter's inclusion in the constitution, he encouraged the campaign to reach out to men as well. As part of the effort, volunteers have been canvassing the territory for a month and have already collected over 10,000 signatures. Mr. Vieira de Mello said that he believed a goal of 100,000 signatures would be achievable.

The working group intends to present the signatures and the Charter to the Constituent Assembly. "Women fought and sacrificed dearly for the freedom of East Timor," said Maria Angelina Pereira, a member of the working group. "Now, we are fighting to include the aspirations of women in the constitution."