Voting in disputed Honduran election ends

Voting in disputed Honduran election ends

Polls closed late Sunday, after electoral authorities extended voting for an hour due to an allegedly large turnout.

Turnout was regarded as crucial for the legitimacy of the election results, after ousted president Manuel Zelaya had called on Hondurans to boycott the vote. Zelaya predicted that about 65 percent of voters would abstain.

The first preliminary official results were expected around 0100 GMT Monday. Shortly before the end of voting, electoral authorities banned exit poll results from being made public before that time.

Honduran media reported that police dispersed supporters of Zelaya who were demonstrating against the voting process in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city. There was no official confirmation of the violence.

"(Police) are throwing tear gas and hitting people who are taking part in the demonstration, where there are also children," one reporter at the rally told Radio Globo.

Those were the first reports of violence on election day in Honduras, with relative calm in Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

The Committee of Families of Missing Detainees in Honduras on Sunday denounced the arrests of close to 30 people over the previous 24 hours.

While Zelaya urged Hondurans to boycott the vote, his opponents saw it as a chance for the country to overcome the ongoing political crisis, exacerbated when Zelaya was seized by the military on June 28 and expelled from the country.

As he cast his ballot, coup leader Roberto Micheletti said that Hondurans hoped that the election would make "the world's governments understand that they are men and women who want to live in a democracy."

Porfirio Lobo of the National Party and Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party - to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong - were the leading presidential candidates.

For now, only a few countries - including the United States and Panama - have said they will recognise the outcome of the election. Most Latin American countries reject the election altogether, while a few others - like Mexico - and the European Union want to wait until Hondurans vote.

Honduran authorities expected some 3,000 foreign election observers, but there were none from key international bodies including the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the United Nations, which continue to demand Zelaya's reinstatement.

About 30,000 police and military, plus 10,000 reservists, were mobilised to secure the election.

The election had been scheduled before the coup and was at the heart of the original crisis.

Hondurans were voting for president, National Congress and local government offices. Before his ouster, Zelaya had sought to add a referendum to the ballot for a reform of the constitution.

Critics saw this as an attempt by Zelaya to take power from Congress and to change the constitution so he could return to power quickly after his mandate ends Jan 27.