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Honduras suspends rights as violence spreads over delayed vote count

By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA, Dec 2 (Reuters) Honduras suspended constitutional rights to give the army and police more powers to contain unrest, a senior government official said on Friday, after at least one person was killed in protests and looting triggered by a contested election.
Ebal Diaz, a high official for the council of ministers, spoke on a Honduran news program shortly after the Central American country's electoral tribune said it would aim to resume a controversial presidential vote count on Saturday.
"The suspension of constitutional guarantees was approved so that the armed forces and the national police can contain this wave of violence that has engulfed the country," Diaz said on the national television. He said the order would take effect at 1200 ET (0500 GMT), but did not give details of what rights would be suspended.
At least one protester died, over 20 people were injured and more than 100 others were arrested for looting after opposition leaders accused the government of trying to steal last Sunday's election.
In a widely criticized vote count, TV-host's Salvador Nasralla's early lead was suddenly reversed in favour of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Earlier in the day, Nasralla said government infiltrators were behind the unrest, which he warned would be used to justify military curfews.
Businesses closed early and Hondurans lined up for panic purchases as groups of looters carried off TVs and washing machines from shopping centres, television images showed.
Plumes of smoke from burning tires at barricades drifted over the San Pedro Sula, the country's second city. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds.
Police sources said at least one man had been shot and killed at a protest in the city of La Ceiba, while about 12 members of the military and police force had been injured in demonstrations that snarled traffic outside Honduras' main port on Friday and around the country.
At least 10 protesters were injured in the capital of Tegucigalpa, according to the city's Hospital Escuela.
Military officials called for peaceful protests after police reports of looting in the capital and other cities.
More than 100 people were also arrested on suspicion of looting in San Pedro Sula on Friday, a police spokesman said, and local media carried footage of shops being plundered.
People flocked to supermarkets on Friday, stocking up on food and provisions as major roads and supply routes were blocked across the country by angry protesters.
Lines appeared outside gas stations and cash machines. Banks clogged up with people wanting to withdraw or deposit money.
"I'm filling the tank with gas in case anything happens, the situation looks bad and there are protests all over the city," said Carlos Valle, a 61-year-old pensioner, as he joined a long line of vehicles waiting at a fuel pump in Tegucigalpa.
Honduras was due to publish the final result of the election at 9 p.m. local time (0300 GMT) on Friday, the electoral tribunal said, but opposition complaints about the count impeded that.
Election results initially had Nasralla leading by five points with more than half the votes counted. They then swung in favor of U.S.-backed center-right Hernandez after the count came to a halt on Monday and resumed over a day later, sparking protests.
The tribunal has said it will hand-count some 1,031 outstanding ballot boxes with irregularities - or nearly 6 percent of the total - after the count halted with Hernandez ahead by less than 50,000 votes, or about 1.5 percentage points.
However, Nasralla's center-left alliance has called for votes to be recounted in three of Honduras' 18 departments, or regions, and refused to recognize the tribunal's special count until its demands for a wider review were met.
"If Juan Orlando wins, we're ready to accept that, but we know that wasn't the case, we know that Salvador won and that's why they're refusing the transparency demands," said Marlon Ochoa, campaign manager of Nasralla's alliance.
International concern has grown about the electoral crisis in the poor Central American country, which struggles with violent drug gangs and one of the world's highest murder rates.
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