At least 1 protester killed amid Honduras election unrest

0
54


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — At least one opposition protester died in shootings overnight in Honduras after the country announced a curfew and suspended some constitutional rights in the face of unrest over a disputed election in which both candidates have claimed victory.

As the ballot count entered its sixth day Saturday, the national police force said a 19-year-old woman was shot to death at a protest supporting opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla by gunmen who witnesses say were police. Police said another man was seriously wounded in the same shooting, but his whereabouts are unclear, and he is also believed to have died.

"We still do not know if the assailants were police officers or not, but the case is being thoroughly investigated," a statement from the police said.

The protests were reminiscent of the 2009 coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya, whose Libre party is part of the coalition led by Nasralla that formed in a bid to unseat President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

The country's electoral court had finished counting nearly 95 percent of the vote boxes from the Nov. 26 presidential election by late Friday and said it would conduct a hand count of 1,031 other boxes that presented "inconsistencies."

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

But mistrust mounted amid strange delays in the vote count and the sudden reversal of Nasralla's early lead.

Rock-wielding protesters have increasingly taken to the streets against riot police armed with tear gas, batons and water cannons. National police spokesman Jair Meza said 12 people had been wounded in clashes between police and protesters.

The Coalition Against Impunity, a network of human rights organizations, said in a report that security forces had used lethal ammunition and that four other protesters are believed to have been killed during clashes. The report was not immediately confirmed by police.

Meza said numerous businesses were damaged and looted in the capital and in San Pedro Sula, where local press reported that protesters had set a bank branch on fire.

By Saturday, Meza said more than 300 people had been detained for looting as they streamed out of shopping centers with electronics and other goods in Tegucigalpa and 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.

In a decree read out on radio and television, the government's Cabinet chief Jorge Hernandez said late Friday that some constitutional guarantees would be suspended for 10 days to allow the army and police to control the situation. The government declared a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. across the country.

"The curfew is to safeguard the security of the country," President Hernandez said as he left a hotel in the capital after meeting with observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union. "This is the time for the people to feel supported by their armed forces and their police because it cannot be that somebody decides to loot or rob."

The military reported that 115 men and 23 women were detained in San Pedro Sula for violating the curfew on the first night it was implemented. They were later released.

Earlier, electoral court president David Matamoros said 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 ruling 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.

The count had still not begun Friday night because no representatives for Nasralla had arrived: "The wait continues," said court spokeswoman Lourdes Rosales. There was no comment from the court Saturday morning.

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.

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. Nasralla and Hernandez have urged calm and warned their supporters to not be provoked into violence.

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

"The crisis has already begun in Honduras," he said. "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."

__

Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.