Violent protests seek removal of Honduras president

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Protests calling for the exit of President Juan Orlando Hernández turned violent Thursday as Honduran police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators in the capital.

Protesters blocked roads with burning tires. Windows were broken in downtown businesses.

Government critics have been emboldened by the conviction of Hernández’s younger brother on drug trafficking charges in a New York court this month after a trial during which witnesses implicated the president in the drug enterprise.

The president has strongly denied the claims, which included drug traffickers testifying that they gave $1.5 million to Hernández’s various political campaigns in exchange for protection from security forces.

Salvador Nasralla, a television personality who finished second to Hernández in the last election, leads a coalition calling for the president to step down. They have promised civil disobedience until Hernández is gone and threatened a national strike, but haven’t set a date.

Political analyst Raúl Pineda, a former lawmaker from Hernández’s National party, said Thursday that Honduras “requires urgent changes.”

Pineda sees three options for Hernández to calm the situation: rectify his behavior, open a genuine dialogue with the opposition or resign.

“If Hernández doesn’t go voluntarily there will be a lot of violence in the streets and Honduras will fall into a terrible total chaos,” Pineda said.

Retired Gen. Romeo Vásquez, who was involved in the removal of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 before embarking on a political career, said Honduran institutions are not working.

“That’s why it’s time to change the country’s direction,” he said.

Honduras’ Channel 5, an outlet that has traditionally backed the government line, saw one of its most recognized personalities, Renato Álvarez, say on air Thursday that “the path to social peace passes through the president’s resignation.”