TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – A Honduran TV star turned opposition candidate called on Sunday on the country’s military to rebel from enforcing a curfew that was imposed after deadly protests followed last week’s disputed presidential vote.
Thousands of mostly young demonstrators banged pots and blew shrill horns as they marched through the capital in support of Salvador Nasralla, who accuses the government of trying to steal last week’s election. Local TV images showed similar protests in other major cities around the country.
Early last week, Nasralla, a former sportscaster and game show host, appeared to have pulled off an upset victory over U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez before the vote count stalled without declaring a clear winner.
Electoral authorities said on Sunday they would announce a winner soon, once they concluded a partial recount.
Addressing protesters from an intersection near where the vote count was taking place, Nasralla called on the armed forces to disobey their leaders and urged his supporters to continue peaceful protests.
“I call on all members of the armed forces to rebel against your bosses,” Nasralla told a cheering throng of supporters who booed nearby troops. “You all over there, you shouldn’t be there, you should be part of the people,” he said.
Hundreds have been arrested in violent protests that have left at least three dead. The government imposed a military-enforced curfew on Friday.
Nasralla called on his supporters to rush home from the rally and begin banging on pots and pans at 6 p.m. sharp, when the curfew takes effect.
The country’s electoral tribunal began a partial recount of nearly 6 percent of the vote. The recount was projected to stretch into the early hours of Monday.
Nasralla has demanded the recount be widened to include thousands more polling stations, but electoral officials have not agreed to expand the review.
The Organization of American States on Sunday said in a statement that the tribunal should not stop with the limited recount. It said Nasralla’s demand to recount more than 5,000 polling stations was doable.
“Even the nationalists know this was a big fraud. The recount is useless. They know that the president lost,” said Carlos Hernandez, 24, before approaching a group of soldiers along the protest route and yelling at them for supporting the government.
Nasralla’s early 5-percentage-point lead on Monday was later reversed, after a pause of more than a day in the count, in favor of Hernandez, leading to accusations of vote fraud and calls for protests. Disputed votes could swing the outcome.
Under the official count, Hernandez had 42.9 percent of the vote while Nasralla has 41.4 percent, with 95 percent of votes tallied.
The curfew expanded powers for the army and police to detain people and break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.
Social media showed Hondurans across the country banging pots and pans in their homes and in the streets at night in protest over the curfew.
The Central American country struggles with violent drug gangs, one of world’s highest murder rates and endemic poverty, driving a tide of Hondurans to migrate to the United States.
“We cannot continue with this president. We are afraid to leave our houses. We want to study and have a future that is not just going to the United States or being killed by gangs,” said Marilyn Cruz, a 27-year old law student, who joined the protests on Sunday.
Hernandez, 49, implemented a military-led crackdown on gang violence after taking office in 2014. He has been supported by U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, since Kelly was a top general in the previous administration.
The 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and is backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009.
Since late last week, three people have been killed as soldiers busted up protesters’ blockades of rubble and burning tires. There were also reports that between four and five more had been shot dead in the north of the country on Friday.
Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Sandra Maler