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After Political Turmoil, Hondurans Back Conservative Candidate

After months of tensions following the ousting of Honduras' top leader, the country elected a new president on Sunday. Margaret Warner reports.

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    In the Central American nation of Honduras, after months of a bitter standoff, a presidential election has finally taken place.

    Margaret Warner has that story.


    The streets of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, were calm today, as Hondurans took in early results from Sunday's presidential vote. Election officials announced that Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, a conservative rancher, had a strong lead, with more than 55 percent.

    Lobo began celebrating shortly after the polls closed.


    Four years ago, I didn't win myself, but four years go by quickly. And here we are today. Today, we start a new era in the history of Honduras. Change begins today.


    Though the Organization of American States did not send monitors to observe, Lobo called the election the cleanest in the history of the country.

    Honduran officials said more than 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and newspaper headlines called the turnout massive. But ousted President Manuel Zelaya disputed the claim. He was forced into exile last June, in what the U.S. and others branded a coup.

    Zelaya spoke Sunday from the Brazilian Embassy, where he's been holed up since returning to Honduras in September,

    MANUEL ZELAYA, president, Honduras: I declare this process illegal and illegitimate as president of Honduras. It doesn't represent the sovereign rights of Hondurans and should be annulled and redone under a legal system.


    Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and other neighbors also condemned the vote as illegitimate, but Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica endorsed it.

    In Washington, a top State Department official, Arturo Valenzuela, called the vote an important step forward, but he said it should not be the end of the process.

    ARTURO VALENZUELA, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, U.S.: For the countries of the hemisphere and for the United States to work towards the restoration of Honduras to the Organization of American States later on, Honduras must do more than just simply the selection. They must follow a process of national reconciliation. And that's what we're urging the Honduran leadership to engage in. The people of Honduras want nothing less.


    Valenzuela urged the Hondurans to try again to create a unity government to oversee the country until January 27. That's the day the new president takes office.

    Late this afternoon, I spoke with Marcelo Ballve of New America Media, who has been covering the election.

    Marcelo, welcome. What was the scene like yesterday at the polling places you visited?

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