Honduras crisis: Army enforces curfew while vote count stalls

A masked supporter of presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla carries cookies at a burning roadblock where demonstrators protest what they call electoral fraud in Tegucigalpa. (Photo: AP) Related News

Honduran security forces fanned out on Saturday to enforce a curfew that emptied streets after a contested presidential election triggered looting and violent protests that have left at least three people dead. Hundreds have been arrested after the tally from last Sunday’s presidential race stalled without a clear winner and 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 gas stations early Saturday as people stocked up on supplies, but many shops were shuttered and 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. Nasralla’s early lead on Monday was later reversed in favor of Hernandez, leading to accusations of vote fraud and calls for protests. Disputed votes could swing the outcome.

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.

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. TV images showed security forces firing tear gas and using a tank to break up protests in the country’s second biggest city, San Pedro Sula. More than 200 people have been arrested and more than 20 injuries have been reported in the skirmishes between protesters and security forces.

Nearly 100 people were arrested during the first night of the curfew, but most had been released, said Col. Jorge Paz, a spokesman for the military. Thirty-four people who were detained during the week would be charged with terrorism, he said. 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 has been 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 irregularities.

“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 left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington based-think tank, said in a statement on Friday that authorities should carry out a full recount of the vote due to “credible allegations of irregularities.”

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, said Friday the government put the curfew in place at the request of concerned citizen groups. Backed by the United States, Hernandez implemented a military led crackdown on gang violence that is credited with curbing the country’s murder rate.

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