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Protesters gather in Honduras as TV star's election lead withers

Protesters gather in Honduras as TV star's election lead withers
From Reuters - November 29, 2017

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A TV host who seemed poised to win Sundays Honduran presidential election brought thousands of protesters onto the streets on Wednesday, as his early lead evaporated to under 25,000 votes after delays in the widely criticized vote count.

Sportscaster and entertainer Salvador Nasralla, 64, heads a coalition made up of leftist and centrist parties. He did unexpectedly well in a partial count of votes released on Monday, taking a strong five-point lead against U.S.-friendly center-right President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

However, after not releasing results for about 36 hours, on Tuesday afternoon the election tribunal began issuing a vote count that showed Nasrallas lead dwindling to less than 1 percentage point, with nearly a quarter of ballots still to be counted.

With Nasralla and Hernandez both claiming victory, international observers said the delays were damaging the credibility of authorities.

Pre-election opinion polls indicated that Hernandez had been favorite to win the vote in the poor Central American nation, which struggles with violence, drug gangs and corruption and has one of the worlds highest murder rates.

Nasrallas supporters accused the electoral tribunal of only releasing results from regions that support Hernandez, who has won U.S. praise for helping tackle a flow of migrants to the north and extraditing drug cartel leaders to the United States.

In a television interview on Tuesday evening, an angry Nasralla said the election was being stolen from him and asked his supporters to flock to capital Tegucigalpa to protest.

Weve already won the election, he said. Im not going to tolerate this, and there are no reliable institutions in Honduras to defend us.

About 8,000 people gathered in Tegucigalpa for Nasrallas march on Wednesday, with more slowly arriving.

Im here so that justice and the will of the people is carried out, because we elected Salvador Nasralla, and Juan Orlando Hernandez wants to steal his victory, said 22-year-old David Ramirez, a red political flag draped over his shoulder.

The Organization of American States election observers on Tuesday urged people to remain calm and wait for official results, which they said should be delivered as quickly and transparently as possible.

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