Thousands of Hondurans marched on Sunday to back a TV star who says the government is trying to steal last week’s disputed presidential election.
Hundreds have been arrested in violent protests that have left at least three dead after the tally from last Sunday’s presidential race stalled without a clear winner.
Waving blue and white Honduran flags as well as red banners of a left-leaning opposition alliance, throngs of mostly young demonstrators banged pots and blew shrill horns as they marched through the capital in support of Salvador Nasralla.
Electoral officials began a partial recount on Sunday.
The electoral tribunal said it was reopening the tallying of votes from 1,031 ballot boxes in which inaccuracies were detected. Nasralla and supporters of his leftist Alliance of Opposition Against Dictatorship have called for a far broader recount.
Nasralla’s representatives were invited, but did not show up for the examination of the tally sheets, suggesting they might no longer recognize the count.
The former sportscaster and game show host told a rally in the capital, Tegucigalpa, that the magistrates of the electoral tribunal “are employees of President [Juan Orlando] Hernandez,” who ran for re-election despite a constitutional ban on doing so.
“The tribunal is not an independent organism and as such is neither credible nor trustworthy for the people,” said Nasralla, 64.
Officials finished counting nearly 95 percent of the ballot boxes from the Nov. 26 election by late Friday and Hernandez held a lead of more than 46,000 votes over Nasralla. It was not immediately clear how many votes could be at play in the so-far untallied boxes.
Both Hernandez and Nasralla have claimed victory. Nasralla had been leading in the count until a lengthy delay interrupted reports from electoral officials, feeding opposition complaints of irregularities. Officials blamed the pause on technical problems and denied any manipulation.
“I have asked them to repeat the elections, but only those for the presidency, with the aim of resolving the crisis that Honduras is suffering,” Nasralla said Saturday.
He said a new election “would be under the supervision of an international electoral tribunal, not the local one, because there aren’t sufficient conditions to guarantee” the vote would be fair.
Vote count was ‘a big fraud’
“Even the nationalists know this was a big fraud. The recount is useless. They know that the president lost,” said Carlos Hernandez, 24, before approaching a group of soldiers along the protest route and yelling at them for supporting the government.
Following violent protests, the government imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew on Friday, expanding powers for the army and police to detain people and break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.
The protests were reminiscent of those following the 2009 coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya, whose Libre party is the key partner in the coalition led by Nasralla that formed in a bid to unseat Hernandez.
Social media showed Hondurans across the country banging pots and pans in their homes and in the streets at night in protest over the curfew.
U.S. officials and the head of the Organization of America States have called for Hondurans to refrain from violence and let election officials carry out the recount.
Honduras beset by endemic poverty
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.
“We cannot continue with this president. We are afraid to leave our houses. We want to study and have a future that is not just going to the United States or being killed by gangs,” said Marilyn Cruz, a 27-year old law student, who joined the protests on Sunday.
Since late last week, at least three people, including a 19-year-old woman, have been killed in the demonstrations as soldiers busted up protesters’ blockades of rubble and burning tires, according to a national police spokesperson.
Showing support for Nasralla from Venezuela, the leftist president Nicolas Maduro — who rules by decree and has been called a dictator by U.S. officials — said Sunday the U.S. is behind the election fraud.
“The people of Honduras want democracy, they want peace, they want respect to their will. The people of Honduras say ‘no’ to the fraud of the pro-imperialist right. Behind the fraud in Honduras is the imperialist government of the United States.”
Hernandez, 49, implemented a military-led crackdown on gang violence after he took office in January 2014 that was backed by the United States. He has been supported by U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly.