TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran security forces fanned out on Saturday to enforce a curfew as sporadic demonstrations continued over a contested presidential election that triggered violent protests that have killed at least three people.
Hundreds have been arrested after the tally from last Sunday’s presidential race stalled without a clear winner. Opposition leaders accused the government of trying to steal the election
TV star Salvador Nasralla on Saturday accused his rival, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, of carrying out a “coup” by manipulating the vote count and declaring the curfew to stifle protests.
International concern has grown about the electoral crisis in the poor Central American country, which struggles with violent drug gangs and one of the world’s highest murder rates.
Lines formed at supermarkets and early Saturday as people stocked up on supplies, but upscale malls and many shops were shuttered while others closed early as groups of workers waited to catch buses and get back to their homes before the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew took effect.
“I‘m afraid I‘m going to get arrested by the army and be stuck in jail overnight or hit a blockade in the streets,” said Daniel Solorzono, 27, as he heaved eggs, bananas and sausage into his pick-up truck at a market and rushed off to his home.
Nasralla’s early 5 percentage point lead on Monday was later reversed, after a pause of more than a day in the count, in favor of Hernandez, leading to accusations of vote fraud and calls for protests. Disputed votes could swing the outcome.
Under the official count, Hernandez had 42.9 percent of the vote while Nasralla has 41.4 percent, with 95 percent of votes tallied.
Electoral authorities have proposed recounting around 6 percent of the vote, but Nasralla’s party has demanded a wider recount, forcing a stand-off with the ruling party and election authorities.
Heide Fulton, the top official at the U.S. embassy which does not currently have an ambassador, called for Hondurans to refrain from violence. “The Supreme Electoral Tribunal must have the time and space to count all votes transparently and free from interference,” she said on Saturday in a post on Twitter.
One man was killed in the port city of La Ceiba on Friday and a 19-year old woman was shot in the head early Saturday in Tegucigalpa as soldiers busted up protesters’ blockades of rubble and burning tires that had snarled traffic in the capital and major ports, a spokesman for the national police said.
On Friday, police had reported another protestor was killed in La Ceiba.
There were also reports from opposition leaders and a police source that between four and five demonstrators had been shot dead in the north of the country.
While security forces cleared blockades in the capital, there were still highways obstructed around La Ceiba and other areas outside major cities, a police spokesman said.
More than 200 people have been arrested and more than 20 injuries have been reported in the skirmishes between protesters and security forces.
Thirty-four people who were detained during the week would be charged with terrorism, said Col. Jorge Paz, a spokesman for the military.
The government declared the curfew on Friday, expanding powers for the army and police to detain people and break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.
The electoral tribunal was unable to resume the vote tally on Saturday as Nasralla’s center-left alliance refused to participate unless the recount was expanded to three regions with alleged vote tampering.
The tribunal said it would try to carry out the recount of disputed votes on Sunday and that it hoped the opposition would participate. Its top official said they would evaluate if the recount could be widened.
“What everyone already knows is that a coup occurred in Honduras last night precisely in the processing of the ballots. So, the whole world will not recognize these elections,” Nasralla told local television.
The 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and he is backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009.
Hernandez, 49, implemented a military led crackdown on gang violence that was backed by the United States and is credited with curbing the country’s murder rate.
Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Mary Milliken and Jacqueline Wong