Honduras under military curfew after election result triggers violent protests, looting, clashes with police

At least one person has died, more than 20 people were injured and 100 others arrested after opposition leaders accused the government of manipulating the vote count

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 8:11pm

Honduras suspended the right to free movement on Friday, imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew and giving the army and police extended powers after looting and protests triggered by a contested election killed at least one person.

Five days after polls closed, no clear winner has emerged from Sunday’s vote. President Juan Orlando Hernandez has clawed back a thin lead over his challenger, but thousands of disputed votes could still swing the result.

At least one protester has died, more than 20 people were injured and 100 others were arrested for looting after opposition leaders accused the government of trying to steal the election by manipulating the vote count.

“The suspension of constitutional guarantees was approved so the armed forces and national police can contain this wave of violence that has engulfed the country,” said Ebal Diaz, member of the council of ministers.

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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. Honduras is the source of waves of poor migrants to the US and sits on major cocaine trafficking routes.

The nationwide curfew will run from 6pm to 6am for 10 days starting on Friday night, government minister Jorge Ramon Hernandez read out in a statement simultaneously broadcast to television and radio stations.

Under the decree, all local authorities must submit to the authority of the army and national police, which are authorised to break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.

In the widely criticised vote count, television host Salvador Nasralla’s early lead on Monday was later reversed in favour of President Hernandez, leading Nasralla to call for protests.

One of the four magistrates on the electoral tribunal on Thursday flagged “serious doubts” about the counting process.

Nasralla, heads of a centre-left coalition, said government infiltrators had started the looting and violence to trigger the curfew.

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“The people doing acts of vandalism are not from the opposition Alliance, they are from the government,” Nasralla said on Facebook. “These are government operations to spread panic, create chaos and make you believe that the Alliance is causing the destruction.”

Both Hernandez and Nasralla claimed victory after the election. The 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009.

Businesses closed early and Hondurans lined up for panic purchases as groups of looters hit stores, and plumes of smoke rose from barricades made from burning tyres. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds.

The situation looks bad and there are protests all over the city
Carlos Valle

Police sources said at least one man had been shot and killed at a protest in the city of La Ceiba, while about 12 members of the military and police force had been injured in demonstrations across the country. At least 10 protesters were injured in the capital of Tegucigalpa, according to the city’s Hospital Escuela.

More than 100 people were also arrested on suspicion of looting in San Pedro Sula on Friday, a police spokesman said.

People flocked to supermarkets on Friday, stocking up on food and provisions as protesters blocked major roads and supply routes across the country.

“I’m filling the tank with gas in case anything happens, the situation looks bad and there are protests all over the city,” said Carlos Valle, a 61-year-old pensioner, while he was waiting at a fuel pump in Tegucigalpa.

Honduras was due to publish the final result of the election at 9pm local time on Friday, the electoral tribunal said, but opposition complaints about the count impeded that.

Election results initially had Nasralla leading by five points with more than half the votes counted. They then swung in favour of US-backed centre-right Hernandez after the count came to a halt on Monday and resumed over a day later, sparking protests.

The tribunal has said it will hand-count some 1,031 outstanding ballot boxes with irregularities – or nearly 6 per cent of the total – after the count halted with Hernandez ahead by less than 50,000 votes, or about 1.5 percentage points.