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FILE PHOTO - Honduras President and National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez gestures as he addresses the media at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera(reuters_tickers)
By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Organization of American States (OAS) said late on Sunday that Honduras should hold new presidential elections, after the electoral tribunal declared conservative President Juan Orlando Hernandez the official winner of the bitterly contested Nov. 26 presidential vote.
The tribunal said that Hernandez beat centre-left challenger and TV star Salvador Nasralla by 1.53 percentage points, according to the official count, sparking fraud accusations and calls for renewed street protests.
In a nationally televised address, tribunal head David Matamoros said all the challenges presented to it had been resolved and votes were recounted at select polling stations, declaring Hernandez "the president-elect for the Republic of Honduras."
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro questioned the tribunal's decision.
"The people of Honduras deserve an electoral process that confers them democratic quality and guarantees. The electoral process that the tribunal concluded today clearly did not provide that," Almagro said in a statement.
He said the election was marred by irregularities and deficiencies and called for a new general election.
In a video posted on Facebook, Nasralla said it was clear there had been fraud "before, during and after" the election, calling the tribunal's decision a "desperate move."
The candidate said he was headed to Washington to meet with Almagro, as well as officials of the U.S. State Department.
The outcome of those meetings would help determine what steps to take next, he added.
The OAS electoral observer mission said late on Sunday it could not confirm that the election had been "intentionally manipulated" but added that the process had been riddled with issues.
Honduras has been roiled by political instability and violent protests since the vote, which initial counts suggested Nasralla had won. The count has been questioned by the two main opposition parties, including the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, headed by Nasralla, as well as a wide swath of the diplomatic corps.
However, European Union election observers said the vote recount showed no irregularities.
"After comparing a large random sample of voting records provided to us by the Alliance and the original records published on the tribunal's website, the mission observed that the results presented practically no differences," said Jose Antonio de Gabriel, the adjunct head of the EU's mission.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who backed Nasralla, took to Twitter, saying Hernandez "is not our president" and urging people to take to the streets in protest.
TV broadcast images of protesters setting up flaming barricades and blocking roads in cities around the country.
The tribunal had initially declared Nasralla the leader in an announcement on the morning after the vote, with just over half of the ballot boxes counted. It then gave no further updates for about 36 hours.
Once results started flowing in again, Nasralla's lead began narrowing and eventually disappeared.
That prompted national protests, in which 22 people were killed, including two police officers, according to a tally by the Committee of Detained Disappeared Persons in Honduras.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Paul Simao, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)