(Recasts with opposition claim of victory)
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 26 (Reuters) - An exit poll from a private TV network forecast victory for Honduras' U.S.-friendly president in his bid on Sunday for a second term, but an opposition alliance rejected the projection, saying its own candidate won a resounding victory.
The poll by network Televicentro, generally considered a reliable indicator of results, gave President Juan Orlando Hernandez 43.93 percent of the vote, with Salvador Nasralla, who leads a broad left-right coalition called the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, at 34.70 percent.
Hernandez, of the center-right National Party, does not need a majority of votes to win.
The opposition alliance rejected the exit poll, saying its own polls from some 20 percent of polling stations gave it 45 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Hernandez.
"I can confirm that the president is Salvador Nasralla. We won the elections at a national level," said opposition coordinator Manuel Zelaya, a former president ousted in a 2009 coup.
A lawmaker at the time, Hernandez supported the removal of Zelaya after he proposed a referendum on re-election. The opposition alliance says the current president's bid for a second term is illegal.
The Honduras election tribunal is due to give its first official count later on Sunday.
Hernandez, 49, has lowered a sky-high murder rate, accelerated economic growth and cut the deficit since he took office in 2014, and was allowed to run for re-election thanks to a 2015 Supreme Court decision that overturned a constitutional ban on re-election.
Critics warn that Hernandez, a staunch U.S. ally on fighting drug gangs and migration, is tightening his grip on power, using a pliant Supreme Court and electoral tribunal to clear a path for his re-election bid in one of the Americas' poorest, most violent countries.
"I want to say to all Hondurans that we are building democracy," Hernandez said on Sunday at a news conference in Tegucigalpa. He urged his supporters, bedecked in blue and shouting: "Long Live Juan Orlando," to back his candidacy and secure a majority in the 128-seat Congress.
Opposition members say the second-term campaign is illegal and that they will not accept results from an election tribunal they accuse of being co-opted by Hernandez until they conduct their own vote count.
Hernandez, born into a rural family of 17 siblings, promises to use a second term to strengthen his militarized assault on gangs, to build roads and bridges with public and private money to lure foreign investment, create 600,000 jobs and help lift economic growth to above 6 percent.
In the capital, Tegucigalpa, many were thankful for a lower crime rate and seem willing to overlook Hernandez's consolidation of power.
"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't," said Ada Solorzano, a 57-year-old nurse said of Hernandez. "During his time in office, he's fought the gangs and the drug traffickers and he's improved the employment situation. We know he will continue the war on crime and that he plans to create more work."
Another Tegucigalpa resident, Klenia Corea, 26, said she, her family and friends were all voting for Nasralla, citing a lack of jobs for young people and the president's grip on law enforcement.
"He's got all the police," said Corea's mother, Yadira Salgado, 61. "He's got it all tied up."
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney)