Lobo claims Honduras presidency

November 30, 2009 12:00 am

, TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 30 – Conservative Porfirio Lobo has claimed a large win in the controversial first presidential election in Honduras since a June 28 coup – and vowed to form a national unity government.

"There\\\’s no time for more divisions," a beaming Lobo said late Sunday to crowds cheering his nickname "Pepe," after the controversial polls for which turnout was more than 60 percent, according to electoral officials.

The polls divided the Americas and further polarized Honduras after five tense months including a heavy-handed military crackdown and several rounds of crisis talks following the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya.

Lobo, a 61-year-old wealthy farmer who lost to Zelaya in 2005 polls, vowed to bring investment back to the poor coffee and banana exporting nation which suffered from international isolation after the coup.

The United States was quick to underline its support on Sunday, with a government spokesman calling the elections "a necessary and important step forward."

"Significant work remains to be done to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras," added State Department spokesman Ian Kelly in a written statement.

Lobo took a commanding lead with 55.9 percent of the vote, electoral officials said after more than 60 percent of ballots were counted.

Shortly afterwards, his main rival, Elvin Santos, who garnered around 38 percent of votes counted, admitted defeat.

Santos suffered from divisions in his Liberal Party, to which both Zelaya and his rival de facto leader Roberto Micheletti belong.

Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since returning home in September, had urged Hondurans to boycott the vote, hoping overwhelming abstention would discredit the election.

But electoral officials announced that 61.3 percent of 4.3 million voters had turned out, according to the partial results.

A technical problem delayed the announcement of the first results, which still needed to be completed.

Peru, Panama and Costa Rica, which mediated first crisis talks, have said they would support the elections.

Lobo said Sunday that other countries, including France, Poland, Colombia and Japan, had told him they were likely to follow.

But Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and other elected leftist governments in the region have said they will not recognize the result, alarmed that it is allowing the coup to go unpunished in a region that has fought hard against military rule.

Election officials and pro-Micheletti media dubbed the vote a "fiesta" and hailed calm voting across the Central American nation after polling closed.

However, security forces in the northern city of San Pedro Sula fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of Zelaya supporters at a protest against the polls. Journalists and activists at the scene said dozens were detained and injured.

Some 30,000 soldiers and police were deployed to help with the polls.

Rights groups complained of an environment of intimidation and fear leading up to the elections, and slammed a military crackdown on dissent, including several deaths and dozens of arrests after the coup.

Scores of independent observers, including Cuban exiles and right-wing US groups, were monitoring the vote, after the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) declined to assist.

Honduras\\\’s worst crisis in decades revived deep left-right political disputes beyond its borders.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher, swung to the left and allied with regional leftist leader Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after taking office.

Chavez on Sunday denounced the vote as an "electoral farce."

It was as yet unclear who would hand over power to the new president.

The Congress is due to vote on Zelaya\\\’s brief reinstatement — before his term runs out in January — on Wednesday.


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