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Marches back Honduras president in drawn-out, contested election

© AFP / by Noe LEIVA, Henry MORALES ARANA | Supporters of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez take part in a march on December 7, 2017 in Tegucigalpa

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) - 

Thousands of supporters of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez marched on Thursday to back his claim of victory in a strangely drawn-out election that the opposition says was rigged.

But his leftwing rival, former TV president Salvador Nasralla, maintained he won the November 26 poll and is demanding a full recount supervised by foreign officials from the Organization of American States or the European Union.

Nasralla supporters blocked some access roads in the capital to press their candidate's case.

The country's electoral authority has still not declared a winner, even though the final count was given as 42.98 percent for Hernandez and 41.38 percent for Nasralla. It says it is waiting to see if any appeals are lodged before the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the small Central American nation of 10 million remains under a state of emergency to quell anti-Hernandez protests that turned violent, with at least one death reported.

Police who briefly refused to enforce the state of emergency's nighttime curfew are back on the job after a one-day strike that finished Tuesday. But they say they won't repress legitimate protesters demonstrating against Hernandez.

- Poll irregularities -

"Four more years," yelled some of the supporters backing the president in Tegucigalpa. Media estimates put the crowd size at 10,000 people.

Some said they wanted Hernandez, 49, to get another term because they saw him as being tough on gangs that are rampant in the country, and because he somewhat rolled back the crime rate.

Hernandez addressed the supporters, telling them he wanted to see "healing" after the election.

International observers have expressed reservations over the poll, which the Organization for American States said was marred by irregularities that cloud the results.

Returns from 1,000 polling stations have been recounted, but that falls far short of the opposition's initial demand for a recount of ballots from at least 5,100 polling stations, later upped to include results from all 18,000 polling stations.

Nasralla, 64, who refuses to recognize the current results, told his supporters that "we want to save Honduras from tyranny."

- US travel warning -

Hernandez's re-election bid was made amid controversy. He and his conservative National Party argued that a Supreme Court ruling in 2015 allowed him to stand again -- despite a constitutional ban on more than one term for presidents.

He had implicit backing from the United States, however, which is pouring millions of dollars into Honduras and neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador to improve security conditions there. Those three countries -- collectively known as Central America's Northern Triangle -- are the biggest source of undocumented migrants heading to the United States.

The US State Department previously said it was monitoring the situation in Honduras very closely.

On Wednesday, it also issued an alert to US citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the country, citing "volatile and dangerous" demonstrations, rioting and looting in the wake of the election.

by Noe LEIVA, Henry MORALES ARANA

© 2017 AFP