Honduras opposition steps up protests over election

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Tegucigalpa (AFP)

Honduras's leftwing opposition on Wednesday urged days of intensified protests to challenge President Juan Orlando Hernandez's claims that he won a new mandate in a November election marred by suspicions of fraud.

It called for a demonstration in front of military command headquarters in the capital Tegucigalpa to decry "murders" it said happened during robust crackdowns by security forces.

Roads in or near several towns have been blocked, with protesters setting fire to tires.

The Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship urged another "peaceful" protest Thursday to march on the US embassy, and on Friday for demonstrators to take to streets across the country.

The protests were against Hernandez's claiming victory in the poll, after electoral authorities last weekend belatedly said he beat the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, by a mere 1.5 percentage points in the November 26 election.

Nasralla, however, maintains he won the vote, which the opposition said was rigged, and which international observers say was beset by irregularities.

Nasralla was due back in Honduras on Wednesday, after a trip to the United States to press his allegations of fraud in meetings with US State Department officials and the Washington-based Organization of American States.

The United States appeared to be leaning toward endorsing a win for Hernandez, a 49-year-old conservative.

A senior US State Department official told AFP that Washington so far has not seen "anything that alters the final result that the (electoral authority) has come out with."

Guatemala and Colombia have already said they recognize Hernandez's re-election.

On Tuesday, Hernandez urged the opposition to engage in talks with him to calm the crisis.

But the opposition rebuffed the appeal, and Nasralla, 64, said he would only enter talks if it were to confirm him as president-elect. He is demanding the election be held again.

The protests halting traffic have made it difficult for people to travel between the capital and Honduras's second city of San Pedro Sula, in the north.

Several flights have been suspended at San Pedro Sula's airport since Monday because airport workers were unable to make it through. The head of the civil aviation agency, Wilfredo Lobo, said efforts were being made to restore operations.