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imageWASHINGTON: US lawmakers have warned Secretary of State John Kerry of risks to a fair presidential election in Honduras next month, with human rights and intimidation of the opposition topping their concerns.

The letter, dated Tuesday but released Friday, said "opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in the context of the election."

"We are particularly alarmed to learn that the ruling party, and its presidential candidate Mr Juan Orlando Hernandez, now dominates all the key institutions of the government," said the letter signed by three congressmen -- Raul Grijalva, Hank Johnson and Michael Honda.

The ruling party's grip included "the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots -- leaving scarce recourse for Honduran citizens should fraud be committed in the electoral process, or human rights violations continue to threaten debate," they wrote.

Honduras was the scene of a protracted political crisis in 2009 after president Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the military, with the backing of the Congress and the Supreme Court.

After a de facto government, elections were held that brought to office Porfirio Lobo for a four year term that ends in January.

There is a long history of electoral fraud in Honduras and the lawmakers said there was suspicion the November 24 vote would suffer the same fate.

"In light of these facts, we fear the country currently lacks conditions to guarantee a free and fair election process," the congressmen said, citing a report that documented violence and intimidation of opposition figures.

According to Honduras's leading human rights group, at least 16 activists and candidates from the LIBRE opposition party in Honduras have been assassinated since June 2012.

The lawmakers expressed concern that the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa "has not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates," and criticized Hernandez's National Party's "concentration of institutional power through illegal means."

"We request the Department of State to speak forcefully against the pattern of concerted attacks targeting human rights defenders and the opposition," the congressmen's letter concluded.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2013

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