Honduran president claims victory; opponent calls for new election

Honduran president claims victory; opponent calls for new election
Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez talks with an unidentified person during a funeral mass for his late sister Hilda Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
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By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – The president of Honduras declared himself re-elected on Tuesday despite calls by his opponent and the Organization of American States (OAS) for a fresh vote amid allegations of fraud and deadly protests over last month’s disputed election.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez spoke for the first time since electoral authorities said on Sunday he had won the Nov. 26 election. A partial recount did not tip the result in favour of his opponent, TV host Salvador Nasralla, the electoral tribunal said.

Hernandez, who is an ally of the United States, said in a televised address that accepting the popular will would bring “peace, harmony and prosperity” to the poor Central American nation.

“As a citizen and president-elect of all Hondurans, I humbly accept the will of the Honduran people,” said Hernandez, a conservative who has led a military crackdown on the country’s violent gangs. “All that is left to do is heed the freely expressed will of the people.”

Nasralla countered with a call for a re-run of the election, to be monitored by international observers, saying Hernandez was insisting on holding on illegally to power after what he called gross electoral fraud.

Nasralla, who leads a centre-left coalition, was speaking in Washington, where he travelled on Monday to meet with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and a senior State Department official.

Honduras risks falling into civil war, Nasralla told reporters, adding he sought a peaceful and just negotiated solution to the crisis. He also urged Washington to suspend aid to Honduras and to refrain from recognising the election result until a new vote can be held.

In the early hours after last month’s election, Nasralla had seemed headed for a surprise upset win. But results abruptly stopped being issued. When they restarted, the outcome began to favour Hernandez, arousing suspicion among Nasralla supporters.

Shortly after the electoral tribunal backed Hernandez’s victory on Sunday, the OAS said the election did not meet democratic standards. Protesters took to the streets and set up flaming barricades to block roads around the country.

At least 24 people, including two police officers, have died in protests around the country since the opposition declared fraud, according to the Honduran human rights group COFADEH, which tracks kidnappings and murders by the state.

Opposition leaders have accused government security forces of firing into barricades and peaceful protests. A military official has said troops are firing back only if they are shot at by protesters. Opposition leaders deny protesters are armed with guns.

On Monday, one of Hernandez’s top officials rejected the call for another vote.

The U.S. State Department urged Honduran political parties on Monday to raise any concerns about the official results through a formal legal challenge this week.

The Central American country struggles with violent drug gangs, one of world’s highest murder rates and endemic poverty, driving a tide of Hondurans to migrate to the United States.

Hernandez, 49, has been supported by U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, since Kelly was a top general.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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