Gangs, officials square off in Honduras over campaign access

Authorities take part in an operation against gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in parts of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa where residents were threatened if they vote in the November 26 general election and gangs have interfered with campaigning (AFP Photo/Orlando SIERRA)

Tegucigalpa (AFP) - Hundreds of police and soldiers fanned out across many of Honduras' poorest slums on Wednesday after gang members threatened people campaigning for election candidates.

With a November 26 general election looming the authorities rolled in in force. They checked IDs while stopping people and cars in poorer areas of the capital Tegucigalpa, the second city San Pedro Sula, the Caribbean port of La Ceiba and other areas.

Gangs including one called Barrio 18 have been threatening campaigners ahead of the vote. Among those harassed were people canvassing for President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is seeking re-election.

The spokesman for the National Inter-Agency Security Force, Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, said gang members had stopped campaign volunteers from posting campaign posters and other materials in largely gang-run neighborhoods.

"What we want is for people to vote with confidence" on election day, he said.

The candidate of the conservative Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya, told AFP that even in many neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa gang intimidation made it impossible for volunteers to campaign.

Hernandez, a 48-year-old US-educated businessman, is seen as the frontrunner in the presidential election. He took office in 2014.

More than 25,000 gang members operate in the main cities of Honduras where they extort money, murder and traffic in drugs.