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Hondurans elect conservative businessman as president

Honduras is hoping to regain international legitimacy with a new presidential election. Conservative rancher Porfirio Lobo has declared victory, but the man ousted in a coup last June is refusing to recognize the result.

Non-governmental groups and the U.S. Embassy have reported a significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Honduras since the coup. International human rights groups have accused Honduran authorities of using excessive force against protesters and harassing human rights defenders. The de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, suspended many civil liberties for three weeks during the campaign and temporarily shut down an opposition radio and TV station.

On Sunday, human rights groups protested after police and military launched tear gas and water cannons at a peaceful pro-Zelaya demonstration of about 500 people in the northern city of San Pedro Sula.

Most voting appeared peaceful, however, and fears of attacks by Zelaya supporters were not realized. Honduran authorities dispatched thousands of police and soldiers to guard polling stations.

While the Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean nations had warned they would not recognize Sunday's vote, some analysts believe that countries will gradually have little choice but to recognize the balloting.

Already, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a highly respected international figure, has said he would recognize the election if it is deemed fair. Other Central American and Caribbean countries are expected to follow.

The U.S. government has indicated it will accept the winner as long as Honduran authorities take further steps toward national reconciliation, including a congressional vote on whether to restore Zelaya for the final two months of his term. That vote is expected Wednesday.

U.S. diplomats say a newly elected president may sway Congress to reinstate Zelaya in the hopes of winning international legitimacy. But many Hondurans expect the lawmakers to vote against Zelaya, and the former president says he has no plans to return to the job.

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