Honduran opposition unites behind candidate for president, in major shift

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Xiomara Castro, presidential candidate for the opposition Libre Party, addresses supporters during a rally to present her campaign program ahead of the November 28 election, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras September 5, 2021. REUTERS/Fredy Rodriguez

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TEGUCIGALPA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - The top Honduran opposition parties on Wednesday united behind Xiomara Castro as their candidate for a November presidential election, giving the wife of a leftist former president who was ousted in a coup a stronger chance of ousting the ruling party.

The National Opposition Union (UNO) party backed Castro, 62, wife of former president Manuel Zelaya and candidate for the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) party for the Nov. 28 race, party representatives said.

Castro, who says she will establish diplomatic relations with China and legalize abortion in some situations, would be Honduras' first woman president.

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The alliance shakes up the presidential race and presents a serious challenge to President Juan Orlando Hernandez's National Party, in power since elections after Zelaya was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2009. Until now, the National Party has been leading in polls.

"If we don't come together today, the country will lose. Together, nobody can beat us," UNO's previous candidate, television presenter Salvador Nasralla, 68, told a news conference.

"We're going to rescue Honduras from dictatorship with Xiomara Castro as presidential candidate."

A CID-Gallup poll last month showed that each candidate had received 18% support. Nasry Asfura, mayor of the capital Tegucigalpa and candidate of the ruling National Party, led with 21%.

Castro has said she aims to better manage Honduras' external and internal debt that stands at some $13 billion and decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, risk to the mother's life and a malformed fetus.

Honduras is one of the few countries globally that recognizes Taiwan's independence, and a switch in allegiance to Beijing would upset Washington.

Nasralla, a popular television host and sports commentator, led an opposition alliance in 2017 as presidential candidate, and was narrowly defeated by Hernandez in a process riddled with accusations of fraud.

Hernandez's eight years in power have been mired by corruption allegations, which Hernandez has denied. In the United States, prosecutors have accused him of working with drug traffickers to move cocaine into the United States, allegations he also denies.

Asfura, a conservative construction businessman and two-term mayor of Tegucigalpa is backed by Hernandez. He has faced charges of fraud, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering. The charges were dismissed by a criminal court.

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Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon Editing by Alistair Bell

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