Tegucigalpa – Honduras descended deeper into crisis on Friday night as the government declared a 10-day curfew and empowered police and the military to crack down on the unrest that has erupted over the five-day delay in the release of official election results.
The curfew, which began at 11:00pm local time (05:00 GMT), suspends the right to free movement from 6:00pm to 6:00am (12:00 GMT – 00:00 GMT) and directs security forces to detain anyone violating the curfew or who is “in some way suspected of causing damage to people or their property”.
The executive decree also orders the military to support the police in maintaining order, including removing road blockades and other occupations that protesters have set up throughout the capital city and across the country to pressure electoral authorities to release “honest results” in an increasingly contested presidential election.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is seeking re-election, said the curfew was imposed to “safeguard security” after heated protests spilled over into looting on Friday.
Hernandez’ opponent, Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla, claimed that looting was the result of infiltrators and “government operations” designed to sew panic and chaos and justify a military crackdown and curfew.
He also suggested the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) will use the shield of the curfew to announce Hernandez as president-elect with limitations on peoples’ ability to protests the results.
The nationwide military curfew brought back memories of the 2009 US-backed military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, who now supports Nasralla and is the coordinator of the Opposition Alliance.
Roberto Micheletti, de facto president at the time, immediately decreed a curfew on June 28, 2009, and subsequent curfews, enforced by police an military, were sporadically imposed throughout the summer and autumn of 2009.
Honduras suffered a grave deterioration in human rights, including disproportionate use of force by security forces and targeted killings of political activists and human rights defenders.
Coup backers justified Zelaya’s removal with flawed claims he was seeking presidential re-election, which is prohibited by the Constitution.
Hernandez, who supported the coup, justifies his bid for a second term in office using a contested 2015 court ruling overturning the constitutional ban that his critics say was illegal.
Before sundown on Friday in central Tegucigalpa, the boisterous atmosphere of political celebrations and rising tensions of the past week fell silent as businesses shut down early and most cars abandoned the streets amid fears of a deteriorating security situation and difficulty moving through the city with protesters maintaining barricades of burning tires in several neighbourhoods.
Amid the unrest in recent days, riot police have fired tear gas to disperse protesters and military police have reportedly shot live bullets at protesters.
At least one person has been killed in protests in La Ceiba, according to police, and one person in Tegucigalpa, according to the human rights organisation COFADEH.
“Declaring who is the winner and who is the loser won’t resolve the problem because the crisis is installed,” COFADEH coordinator Bertha Oliva told Al Jazeera hours before the announcement of the curfew.
“Impunity and militarisation are established in the country and there are no immediate proposals to assume shared responsibility for a new social pact,” Oliva said, adding: “We are in the worst crisis the government could put us in.”
Unrest has escalated since Wednesday night, when thousands of people took to the streets after Hernandez eclipsed Nasralla in the TSE partial official results following an hours-long silence due to technical problems.
The shift in the results contradicted what TSE magistrate Ramiro Lobo had called an “irreversible” trend towards Nasralla’s victory on Monday. On Thursday, Lobo raised concerns about the TSE’s technical issues and called for the situation to be investigated.
The TSE’s slow delivery of results from Sunday’s election and a sudden change in the direction of results in favour of Hernandez after the first report of results, which initially showed a 5 percent lead for Nasralla with over half of ballots counted, has stirred suspicions of manipulations and fraud.
Opposition supporters also accuse TSE President David Matamoros of selectively processing votes to favour Hernandez and his National Party. Matamoros is an active member of the National Party and previously served as the party’s general secretary and as a member of Congress.
Both candidates have claimed victory since Sunday. The TSE missed its self-imposed deadline to deliver full final results by Thursday.
With 94.35 percent of ballot boxes counted, Hernandez leads with 42.92 percent over Nasralla with 41.42 percent. It remains unclear when final results will be released.
The TSE had been scheduled to begin on Friday afternoon a special review of the ballots that had been flagged for additional scrutiny.
The Opposition Alliance, which has accused the TSE of discriminatory vote processing that saw a majority of Nasralla ballots singled out for additional monitoring, refused to take part in the process.
The Alliance said the TSE failed to meet five of its 11 demands, including a vote by vote recount in three departments where voter turn out was abnormally high, and access to the TSE’s database of the polling station data and votes.
Opposition campaign manager Marlin Ochoa said Friday evening that the Alliance and the TSE failed to reach an agreement to continue with the special scrutiny process to complete the vote count. He blamed the lack of an accord on the TSE’s “intransigence”.
Ochoa also called supporters to join peaceful protesters on Sunday afternoon in Tegucigalpa and the financial capital San Pedro Sula, as well as across the country.