×

UPDATE 1-Honduran tally favors second term for president in disputed vote

(Recasts with tribunal website tally, electoral official's comments )

TEGUCIGALPA, Dec 4 (Reuters) - A preliminary ballot count in Honduras' disputed presidential race pointed on Monday to a second term for incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez, while his opponent accused the government of stealing the election and called for protests.

U.S.-backed Hernandez had 42.98 percent of the vote, compared with opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla's 41.39 percent, based on 99.96 percent of ballots tallied after a partial recount of more than 1,000 polling stations.

David Matamoros, who heads the electoral tribunal and is a member of Hernandez's party, refused to declare a winner. Parties can still file legal challenges, and a wider recount is possible, he told reporters, adding that there would be further announcements on Monday.

Early last week, Nasralla, a former sportscaster and game show host, appeared set for an upset victory over Hernandez, gaining a five-point lead with more than half of the ballots tallied.

The counting process suddenly halted for more than a day and began leaning in favor of Hernandez after resuming. Opposition leaders said on Sunday they wanted a recount of all the polling stations that were entered into the system after the delay.

Protesters flooded streets across the country on Sunday to decry what they called a dictatorship.

As night fell, the sounds of plastic horns, honking cars, fireworks and beaten saucepans echoed over the Tegucigalpa capital, challenging a military curfew imposed to clamp down on protests that have spread since last week.

Nasralla, addressing a giant rally in the capital earlier in the day, told the armed forces not to enforce the curfew and encouraged supporters to walk out on a national strike starting on Monday.

"I call on all members of the armed forces to rebel against your bosses," Nasralla told a cheering throng of supporters who booed nearby troops. "You all over there, you shouldn't be there; you should be part of the people."

TV images showed similar protests in other major cities. While there were no reports of violence on Sunday, hundreds have been arrested and at least three people were killed in recent days.

The government imposed a military-enforced curfew on Friday that expanded powers for the army and police to detain people and break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.

The tribunal began the partial recount on Sunday.

The Organization of American States said on Sunday that Nasralla's demands to recount more than 5,000 polling stations were doable, and it urged the tribunal to make further checks.

Also on Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the United States of backing vote fraud in Honduras, while the top official at the U.S. embassy praised the peaceful protests and the "orderly" final count then under way.

Honduras struggles with violent drug gangs, one of world's highest murder rates and endemic poverty, driving a tide of its people to migrate to the United States.

Hernandez, 49, implemented a military-led crackdown on gang violence after taking office in 2014. He has been supported by U.S. President Donald Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly.

Nasralla, 64, is one of Honduras' best-known faces and is backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009.

Since late last week, three people have been killed as soldiers broke up protesters' blockades of rubble and burning tires. There were also reports that four or five more had been shot dead in the north of the country on Friday. (Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Writing by Michael O'Boyle and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Lisa Von Ahn)