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Agence France Presse

Conservatives Win Honduran Election


Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, candidate of Honduras' National Party, gestures after winning in the presidential elections in Tegucigalpa November 29, 2009. Lobo, a wealthy landowner, had over 55 percent support with more than half the votes counted and his closest rival, Elvin Santos of the ruling Liberal Party, then conceded defeat. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

TEGUCIGALPA - Conservative Porfirio Lobo has claimed a solid 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 polls.

Honduran voters have placed their hopes on the broad-grinned 61-year-old conservative to find an exit to the five-month crisis which isolated the nation after the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya.

Lobo has promised to bring back much-needed foreign investment, and to form a national unity government.

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

Peru, Panama and Costa Rica, which mediated first crisis talks, have already 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.

The division puts in danger US President Barack Obama's attempts for a fresh start with Latin America after a painful history of US intervention in the past.

But analysts have suggested that more countries may come around to the US position.

Provided turnout proved to be above 50 percent and there was no evidence of fraud, "my sense is that they'll come around to recognizing the elections," said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a Latin America expert from the Brookings Institution.

Electoral officials said that 61.3 percent of 4.3 million voters had turned out, according to the partial results.

Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since returning home in September, had urged Hondurans to boycott the vote.

He accused de facto authorities early Monday of inflating the turnout figures, in comments to Radio Globo.

"We are very surprised how this election has been inflated to turn it into a lie for Hondurans," the deposed president said.

Lobo led with 55.9 percent of the vote, electoral officials said late Sunday, 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.

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 said dozens were detained and injured.

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

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

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, when Micheletti has said he will return to the de facto leadership.

"We don't know who the president is at the moment," said 40-year-old shopkeeper Jose Hernan Martinez.

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