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Government restarts vote count in Honduras despite protests

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Government restarts vote count in Honduras despite protests

The Associated Press
Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a government imposed dawn-to-dusk curfew in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, late Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. Opposition leaders have called for a mass march against the purported election fraud on Sunday and for the presidential election to be held again after the country erupted in deadly protests over the delayed vote count. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Honduran electoral authorities on Sunday restarted the long-delayed count of ballots from last weekend's presidential election amid protests by supporters of opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, who is calling for a re-do of the vote.

The electoral tribunal said it was reopening the tallying of votes from 1,031 ballot boxes in which inaccuracies were detected. Nasralla and supporters of his leftist Alliance of Opposition Against Dictatorship have called for a far broader recount.

Nasralla's representatives did not show up for the examination of the tally sheets, suggesting they might no longer recognize the count.

Nasralla told a rally in the capital, Tegucigalpa, that the magistrates of the electoral tribunal "are employees of President (Juan Orlando) Hernandez," who ran for re-election despite a constitutional ban on doing so.

"The tribunal is not an independent organism and as such is neither credible nor trustworthy for the people," said Nasralla, a well-known TV personality.

Electoral tribunal president David Matamoros said, "We have been patient and prudent in waiting for the Alliance's decision, and they have not showed up for this vote count."

Officials finished counting nearly 95 percent of the ballot boxes from the Nov. 26 election by late Friday and Hernandez held a lead of more than 46,000 votes over Nasralla. It was not immediately clear how many votes could be at play in the so-far untallied boxes.

Hernandez's government is enforcing a 10-day curfew of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. seeking to quell demonstrations, although on Saturday it was dropped for the country's two main tourist areas, the Bay Islands and the Mayan ruins of Copan.

Late Saturday, the capital had a night of pot-banging protests over the delays in the vote count, and the sound of bottle-rockets and chants echoed across the city.

Clashes between protesters and troops have killed at least one person, and perhaps as many as a half dozen.

Both Hernandez and Nasralla have claimed victory. Nasralla had been leading in the count until a lengthy delay interrupted reports from electoral officials, feeding opposition complaints of irregularities. Officials blamed the pause on technical problems and denied any manipulation.

"I have asked them to repeat the elections, but only those for the presidency, with the aim of resolving the crisis that Honduras is suffering," Nasralla said Saturday.

He said a new election "would be under the supervision of an international electoral tribunal, not the local one, because there aren't sufficient conditions to guarantee" the vote would be fair. Asked what response he got from the government to the proposal, Nasralla said, "They haven't responded and I don't think they will."

Honduras' national police force said a 19-year-old woman was shot to death at a pro-Nasralla protest Friday by gunmen who witnesses said were police. The national police force said it was investigating the attack. Witnesses and opposition activists claim at least five other people have been killed at protests nationwide.

The protests were reminiscent of those following the 2009 coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya, whose Libre party is the key partner in the coalition led by Nasralla that formed in a bid to unseat Hernandez.

Officials said Zelaya was ousted for considering re-election, which is against Honduras' constitution. But the country's top court threw out that prohibition so Hernandez could seek a second term.

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