Honduran president holds lead as vote count wraps up
President Juan Orlando Hernandez held a lead of more than 52,000 votes in Honduras' hotly disputed presidential race as the long-delayed count wrapped up Monday, eight days after the election.
Hernandez led by a margin of 43 percent of the votes over opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla's 41.4 percent, according to the latest results published on the electoral tribunal's website. His edge expanded in the latest count from about 46,000 votes.
Tribunal president David Matamoros said 100 percent of the ballots had been tabulated — although the website still showed 0.04 percent left to count — but the court was not declaring a winner yet.
"We will do that later," Matamoros said, adding that parties will have 10 days to challenge the results for the Nov. 26 election.
The last ballot boxes that presented "inconsistencies" were examined without the presence of Nasralla and his Opposition Against Dictatorship alliance, which chose not to send representatives as vote tallying continued. Nasralla has called for a far broader recount as well as a redo of the entire election.
Both Hernandez and Nasralla have claimed victory. Nasralla had led in initial returns before a lengthy delay interrupted reports from electoral officials, feeding opposition complaints of irregularities. Officials blamed the pause on technical problems and denied any manipulation.
Nasralla told a big rally in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Sunday that the magistrates of the electoral tribunal "are employees of President 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.
On Monday, he alleged that the special count was a "fraud" with "false, fixed, arranged votes."
Hernandez took to social media to urge calm and national unity.
"I extend my hand to all contenders and sectors of the country to build a new Honduras," he tweeted. "The results of this election leave us with a great hope. … My commitment to working for peace and tranquility in Honduras is more alive than ever."
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that it was "pleased Honduran election authorities completed the special scrutiny process in a way that maximizes citizen participation and transparency."
It also said it supports international election observers working "to increase the transparency of the process" and called on politicians "to ensure a result that represents the will of the Honduran people."
Marisa Matias of the European Union observer mission urged electoral officials to be flexible and respect a reasonable time frame for parties to present any petitions or challenges. She added that the petitions the mission had seen so far "are reasonable."
"The process is far from being over," Matias said.
At the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, as Secretary-General Luis Almagro was taking part in a forum on human rights, about a dozen protesters held signs with slogans such as "(hashtag)Honduras. No to repression" and "(hashtag)Honduras. More democracy."
Hernandez's government is enforcing a 10-day curfew of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to quell demonstrations, although it was dropped Saturday for the country's two main tourist areas, the Bay Islands and the Mayan ruins of Copan.
Late Sunday, the capital had another night of pot-banging protests over 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. Police spokesman Jair Meza said nearly 800 people were detained during the first two nights of the curfew.
The protests have been 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.
At a news conference Monday, Zelaya said his opposition alliance had won the election, disavowed the results and promised acts of civil disobedience to protest.
"The people will defeat the fraud, no matter the cost, in the streets where they will wage the great battle for the homeland," Zelaya said.
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