Security tight as nation prepares for post-coup vote
Honduran police have stepped up security measures ahead of Sunday's presidential election, the first since a June coup, with supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya calling for a boycott of the vote.
AFP - The United States, the country's main commercial and military partner, has suggested it will support the polls in a bid to turn a page on the five-month crisis.
Levels of participation and the running of the polling process will be key in evaluations of the credibility of the vote.
"It's calm but people are frightened that they'll be attacked over the vote," said 27-year-old Patricia Calix, hawking fruit by the roadside in a slum in the Belen area of Comayaguela district, known for its street gangs.
Police this week carried out car and body searches on roads in and around Tegucigalpa in a campaign to confiscate weapons ahead of the vote.
Guns are legal and widely visible in Honduras, which has tens of thousands of registered and unregistered weapons after decades of civil war in neighboring countries.
But the main aim of the latest operation, which collected only a small haul of guns and machetes, was to reassure citizens, said police spokesman Jorge Daniel Molina Galvez, underlining its "psychological value."
"We're living in an unusual and difficult situation," said driver Manuel Aceitunos as officers searched his car.
"Sunday could be dangerous. You have to go out and vote and then remain at home."
Around 30,000 soldiers and police have been deployed nationwide to distribute electoral material and oversee the polls.
Amnesty International said Friday that security forces had stockpiled 10,000 tear gas cans and other crowd control equipment, and expressed fears that the de facto regime would use excessive force to clamp down on opposition to the polls.
Javier Zuniga, head of Amnesty's Honduras delegation, decried what he called "an environment of fear and intimidation."
Rights groups already expressed concern after several deaths and dozens of arrests in the aftermath of the coup.
They reported threats and intimidation of pro-Zelaya activists, while a subtler campaign of intimidation also appeared.
An ad in a newspaper sympathetic to the de facto regime warned voters this week that if they stayed away, their voting history could easily be traced on the Internet.
"The real risk of the 29th (of November -- election day) is that you don't vote," the ad said.
Back in Belen, where armed gangs roam pot-holed streets littered with rubbish, fears of violence are not new.
Presidential frontrunner Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo gained support in the area after his campaign on an anti-crime ticket.
Calix said she was planning to vote for him and welcomed the idea of more security forces.
"Pepe promises there'll be more police, more security. I have children and I'm afraid for them to go out in the street," she said.