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Polls Close in Honduran Presidential Vote


Police clash with protesters calling for a boycott of the vote

Polls have closed for the presidential election in Honduras, where police clashed with protesters calling for a boycott of the vote. Election officials extended hours at polling sites to ensure that voters had a chance to cast their ballots.

Security forces opened fire with tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters in the main industrial city of San Pedro Sula. The de facto government of interim President Roberto Micheletti banned public gatherings ahead of Sunday's vote in an effort to avoid violence.

In the capital, Tegucigalpa, voters trickled into polling centers, guarded by armed soldiers. Police reported no major incidents during the vote, but residents say many people stayed home for fear of violence.

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya called on voters to boycott the election, saying the de facto government is illegitimate. Since October, Mr. Zelaya has been living inside the Brazilian embassy as Honduran officials seek to arrest him on charges of abuse of power and treason.

The top two candidates for president are Porfirio Lobo, a wealthy rancher, and Elvin Santos, who resigned as vice president to Mr. Zelaya in order to run for office. Supporters of both candidates say key goals for the next president are creating more jobs, increasing security and restoring foreign ties.

Shortly before the polls closed, Lobo said the main challenge is to restore the international community's confidence in Honduras. Lobo said foreign governments will have to decide whether to accept the election's outcome. He added that, if elected, he is prepared to reach out to all nations.

Many foreign governments accuse the de facto government in Honduras of launching a coup to remove Mr. Zelaya from office. Brazil and Argentina say they will not recognize the election results, while other Latin American nations say they will accept the outcome in an effort to resolve the political crisis.

U.S. officials have indicated the election is a key step forward for Honduras, but they have not confirmed whether they will accept the outcome.

In the capital, activists from the Washington-based group Quijote Center rallied in front of the U.S. embassy to protest alleged human rights violations ahead of the vote.

Protestor Patricia Adams said activists had documented numerous arrests and attacks on opposition leaders by the Micheletti government. "Without the ability to campaign freely, without the ability to not have to fear for their lives by taking to the streets in a political way, how can anyone claim that those are conditions for a democratic process such as elections?"

Adams is calling on President Barack Obama to reject the vote results, adding that activists had documented very low turnout at polling centers around the country.

Election officials say they expect to announce results and turnout numbers late Sunday.

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