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Honduras' Hernandez takes election lead as rival also claims victory

Honduran officials have reported that the ruling conservative party's candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez has edged ahead in a race for the presidency. However, his main rival has also claimed victory for herself.

The Supreme Electoral Court said on Sunday evening that the conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez (pictured above) was leading in Honduras's presidential vote, having won around 34.3 percent of the vote.

His left-wing rival, Xiomara Castro, trailed with 28.7 percent. The preliminary tally was based on a count from 54.5 percent of polling booths.

Results are scheduled to be updated after midday on Monday local time.

Both contestants in the election have claimed victory, raising fears of possible conflict. Castro's party has already said it will take legal action against the results.

Neck-and-neck surveys

Pre-election opinion polls had anticipated a close race between conservative Hernandez, of the ruling National Party, and Xiomara Castro, of the opposition party Libre.

Some 5.3 million people were registered as eligible. Voters were choosing among the eight candidates on the ballot, with Castro and Hernandez seen as the key contenders.

The electoral court's president, David Matamoros, said earlier there had been no major problems with the vote, adding that turnout was high. He added that voting had been extended by an hour.

'Eyes of the people'

However, Castro's party had warned that voters should remain vigilant in ensuring that the election was fair, calling on them to return to their polling stations after voting to monitor the count.

"The eyes of the people checking the count will be fundamental," said Castro's campaign coordinator, Enrique Reina. Castro's husband, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in a military-backed coup in 2009.

As the vote took place, five people were killed in a shooting near a polling station in the northeastern administrative region of Gracias a Dios.

Armed individuals opened fire on a group of people some 20 meters (22 yards) from the polling center early on Sunday, according to the Honduran daily newspaper daily El Heraldo.

Hernandez, 45, had seen a rise in support in recent weeks, promoting himself as the prime law-and-order candidate. The UN says that Honduras has the world's highest murder rate - some 20 per day in a country of 8.5 million - with gangs controlling entire neighborhoods.

At least 30,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed for election security, military spokesman Jeremias Arevalo told El Heraldo. Hundreds of international observers, including representatives from the European Union and the Organization of American States were monitoring the vote.

rc/av (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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