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Honduras Officials to Hand Count Final Votes

  • Associated Press

FILE - An electoral worker shows a ballot marked to Opposition Alliance presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla during the vote count in the general elections in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 26, 2017.

Honduras' electoral court has finished counting nearly 95 percent of the vote boxes from last Sunday's presidential election and was to begin a hand count of 1,031 other boxes that presented "inconsistencies'' on Friday.

Incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez held a lead of more than 46,000 votes over challenger Salvador Nasralla before the last-stage count. It was not immediately clear how many votes could be at play in the uncounted boxes.

Electoral court president David Matamoros said late Thursday that representatives of the political parties would be present for the vote counts and that no announcements would be made until there is a final result.

After speaking with representatives of the opposition alliance and the National Party, Matamoros said Friday that each party would be able to accredit 60 people to participate in the afternoon count alongside international observers. He estimated it could take six hours.

But the opposition published a list of demands that included a broader review of votes in three jurisdictions where it alleges voter turnout was unusually high and said the number of ballot boxes that presented issues was far larger. It was unclear if its demands would be met.

In a statement, the court also said any suggestion of wrongdoing in its operations is false and it lamented the increasing violence in the streets.

Heide Fulton, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, said via Twitter Friday that Honduras was beginning an "unprecedented phase in the electoral process.'' She called for calm during the count.

National Police spokesman Jair Meza said 12 people had been wounded in street clashes between police and protesters. As the wait for election results has dragged on rock-wielding protesters have increasingly taken to the streets against riot police armed with tear gas, batons and water cannons.

Miguel Osorio, spokesman for the University School Hospital in Tegucigalpa, said Friday that doctors there had treated 10 people for gunshot wounds since protests began. Four had already been released.

Meza, the police spokesman, said numerous businesses were also damaged and looted in the capital and in San Pedro Sula. Local press reported that protesters set a bank branch on fire and looted several other businesses along a street in San Pedro Sula.

Groups of demonstrators also continued blocking highways with burning tires and other debris, in some cases forcing parents to carry their children through the smoking barriers.

Mey Heung, manager of Walmart in Mexico and Central America, as well as president of the Honduran-American Chamber of Commerce, said in a news conference that the situation was unfortunate.

"This political crisis has become a scene of vandalism,'' she said.

Both Nasralla and Hernandez have declared themselves the winner of the election and their parties have urged their supporters to defend the vote in the street.

In the past day, Nasralla and Hernandez have urged calm and warned their supporters to not be provoked into violence.

In an audio message sent to supporters, Hernandez said "the way we're going, I know that we are going very well.''

The national police and armed forces released a joint statement calling for peace. It said security forces would respect the right to protest so long as it was peaceful and did not block traffic.

Rodolfo Cortes, a Nasralla supporter, said "what's happening in Honduras is a small demonstration that Hondurans don't accept the impositions of Hernandez.''

Retired Gen. Romeo Vazquez, who led the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, blamed the unrest on the electoral tribunal's delay in returning results.

"The crisis has already begun in Honduras,'' he said. Things will not settle down once the results are released either, because people are convinced the vote processing was manipulated. "The electoral court is not doing things correctly and things have gotten out of control. The people believe there was fraud because the court did not make the election results immediately known.''

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