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article imageHernandez nears victory in Honduras amid fraud claims

By Noe LEIVA, Marco SIBAJA (AFP)     Nov 30, 2017 in Politics

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez edged closer Thursday to winning a tense election as police battled opposition protestors and rival Salvador Nasralla said he will not recognize the result.

Under a haze of tear gas in the capital, anti-riot police fought running battles with several hundred Nasralla supporters, some armed with sticks.

The popular TV host claimed fraud and called his followers into the streets to defend what he considered his election victory.

In a vote count dogged by computer failures and claims by Nasralla that the president was stealing the election, Hernandez had overturned a five percentage point deficit by Thursday to lead by just over one point with 90 percent of the votes counted.

The election in this poor, gang-plagued country has turned into a drawn-out showdown between Nasralla, 64, and Hernandez, 49, who is going for four more years in office despite a constitutional limit of just one term.

Supreme Election Council (TSE) chief David Matamoros slammed an attempt by protesters to storm the count center late Wednesday, saying a breach could have invalidated the vote.

Supreme Election Council (TSE) chief David Matamoros slammed the political unrest in the capital Teg...
Supreme Election Council (TSE) chief David Matamoros slammed the political unrest in the capital Tegucigalpa and in other cities around the country
Orlando SIERRA, AFP

Riot police used tear gas to drive away the demonstrators before dawn.

"We are worried about the mobilizations that are taking place in different parts of the country," the elections chief said, referring to protests in other cities.

Matamoros said the count from Sunday's election would be completed Thursday.

- Narrow margins -

The Organization of American States said it was "concerned" by the violence and had to evacuate observers who were in the count center when it came under attack.

It urged the TSE "to process 100 percent of the ballots... before proclaiming the results given the fact that, due to the narrow margins of the presidential election, these ballots may be decisive."

The security ministry warned that protestors preventing free movement in the streets would be removed, and extended a ban on carrying weapons, enforced over the election period, by a further eight days.

Opposition MP Rafael Alegria blamed Hernandez for "savage repression against a peaceful demonstration," referring to the clashes in the capital.

The presidential candidate for Honduras' Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship  Salvador...
The presidential candidate for Honduras' Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla, holds up vote tallies that he claims show that he won the November 26 general elections
ORLANDO SIERRA, AFP

Nasralla attributed a series of failures in the TSE computer system to a maneuver to alter voting sheets in Hernandez's favor.

"We do not recognize the results because today the server went down, and things started going in that we cannot allow," Nasralla told journalists late Wednesday, mentioning records that were unsigned.

The data transmission system had a five-hour failure on Wednesday and several others that were shorter.

The opposition candidate accused the TSE president of being part of a "conspiracy" with the ruling party to alter results.

Matamoros denied the accusations.

"We would not do well to go into a quarrel with any candidate," the TSE chief said.

Even TSE member Marco Ramiro Lobo said his suspicions had been aroused.

"I have doubts because curiously today (Wednesday) when the trend changed, the TSE's computer system has started to fail," Lobo told Radio America.

Hernandez's conservative National Party contends that a 2015 Supreme Court decision allowed him to run for another term.

Nasralla and his coalition, the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, have denounced the incumbent's bid, saying the court does not have the power to overrule the 1982 constitution.

Both candidates had claimed victory within hours of polls closing on Sunday.

The TSE released partial results Monday showing Nasralla with a surprise five point lead with more than half the votes counted.

On Tuesday, the election authority posted new results showing a one percentage point drop in the opposition candidate's previous lead -- with just over 61 percent of the ballots counted.

Nasralla accused the conservative president of plotting to rig the vote, saying his "survival instinct" was hijacking democracy.

Hernandez for his part asked Hondurans to be patient, saying votes from rural areas where his support was strongest had yet to be counted.

Partial results of the Honduras presidential election  with 88.76 percent of ballots counted
Partial results of the Honduras presidential election, with 88.76 percent of ballots counted
Nicolas RAMALLO, AFP

In subsequent TSE bulletins, the gap has narrowed further, while the percentages for the other seven candidates remain unchanged.

"I do not understand why they have taken so long and why only one candidate goes up," said Freddy Canales, a waiter in the capital Tegucigalpa.

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