TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla blocked highways with flaming barricades Friday to protest Honduras’ disputed presidential election, in which incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez holds a slim lead according to official results.
Demonstrators spread oil, diesel and nails on the roads to impede passage by police and military vehicles and threw rocks at security forces, who responded with salvos of tear gas.
Police and soldiers repeatedly cleared the barricades only for them to re-emerge. Protesters are demanding that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declare Nasralla, who has alleged electoral fraud, the winner nearly three weeks after the vote amid a count marred by delays and irregularities.
“We will be here until we achieve our aims,” said former President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a 2009 coup, who leads Nasralla’s party and led one of the protests on a highway outside the capital, Tegucigalpa. “We will be like this until we defeat the spurious regime of Juan Orlando Hernandez and its shameless fraud in the Nov. 26 election.”
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Hernandez, who won 43 percent of the vote to Nasralla’s 41.4 percent according to the count, has repeatedly called for calm and patience as the electoral tribunal does its work.
The court has finished a recount of ballot boxes that presented irregularities but has still not declared a winner. It has 30 days from the contest to do so.
The Jesuit-run Radio Progreso said in an editorial that Honduras “continues to be enveloped in uncertainty because there have still been no official data offered about who was the winner.”
It urged citizens “to support a transparent, impartial, timely and peaceful determination” to resolve the crisis.
Honduras’ National Human Rights Commission said 16 people have died in protests since the election, including two police officers, and 1,675 people have been arrested.
Friday’s protests centered on the capital and various parts of a main Caribbean coastal highway.
People in El Carrizal, to the east of Tegucigalpa, blocked roads with boulders and burning tires, threw fire bombs at an army vehicle and chanted, “The dictatorship will fall.”
In San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, protesters burned a milk delivery truck and unknown looters sacked a small market.
In the evening, hundreds protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
In a statement, Nasralla said the protests “represent a show of support and a call to attention for Hernandez to act according to reason and admit his defeat in the elections.”
Electoral tribunal president David Matamoros has insisted that the election and vote count were carried out with transparency.
The political crisis has resulted in the closure of many businesses and daily economic losses estimated at about $50 million.
Armando Urtecho, executive director of the Private Business Council, said some 4,000 jobs have been lost because of the chaos and many businesses are not hiring because of slow sales during the holiday season.
“The people are not buying for fear of what may happen,” Urtecho said.