Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Dec 7, 2017 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A contested national election in Honduras has enflamed a civil crisis, leading Pope Francis to pray on Sunday for Hondurans to “peacefully overcome the current difficult moment.”

Juan Orlando Hernández, the incumbent president, faced opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla in the Nov. 26 presidential election.

Early returns from the election, with nearly 58 percent of votes counted, showed a five-point lead for Nasralla, a popular television star. The count slowed and his lead disappeared, amid claims from Nasralla supporters that the election was being stolen by Hernandez, the British newspaper The Guardian reports.

Nasralla has claimed victory, saying, “I am the president-elect of Honduras, the president chosen by the people.”

Early Dec. 4, the Supreme Electoral Commission said Hernandez led Nasralla by 42.98 percent to 41.39 percent, based on a recount of suspicious votes from over 1,000 polling stations. However, the commission refrained from declaring a winner and a wider recount may still be possible.

The Organization of American States’ mission in Honduras was among the international observers calling for the recount. The mission cited irregularities, errors and systematic problems.

Allegations of voter fraud have triggered major protests and violence that has killed at least 11 people. There have been confrontations between protesters and security forces in riot gear using water cannons and tear gas. A curfew has lessened some of the protests, but not put an end to the violence.

The conflict may be the country’s greatest political crisis since a 2009 coup.

The Society of Jesus’ Central American province was outspoken, backing the protesters and criticizing the electoral commission for “lack of professionalism and ethics” due to its alleged systematic failure to track and report election results, the Jesuit-run America Magazine reports. They charged that its actions “hide an unexpected victory by the opposition over the current president who did everything that he could, legal and illegal, to be re-elected.”

Released Dec. 3, the statement was signed by Central American provincial Alvarado Lopez, S.J. and the province’s social apostolate coordinator Francisco Iznardo Almi√±ana, S.J.

The Jesuits denounced “the crude manipulation of this situation by the magistrates, influenced by the real and shadowy power from the state and other places in an attempt to disregard the popular will expressed in the polls.”

They charged that agents of the state are engaged in “the repression of the Honduran people.” The Honduran people are teaching “a lesson about civic duty, dignity and the peaceful defense of the rights of citizens,” they said.

Honduran national police have said they will not obey orders from the current president until the crisis is resolved. National police in the capital have said they will refuse to enforce a curfew.

Hernández is a close U.S. ally, The Guardian reports. He has worked closely with the U.S. on border security, anti-drug operations and migration.

The U.S. State Department has certified Honduras as a supporter of human rights and opponent of corruption. The certification allows the U.S. to provide Hernandez’s government millions of dollars in security assistance. In 2017 such aid totaled about $17.3 million dollars.