By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras' defeated leftist presidential candidate, the wife of ousted former leader Manuel Zelaya, led thousands of supporters onto the streets of Tegucigalpa on Sunday to protest an election result she has called fraudulent.
The demonstration by a crowd estimated at several thousand people passed off peacefully, which analysts said offered some hope for political stability. The Central American country is plagued by violence and has the world's highest murder rate.
The ruling National Party's Juan Hernandez, who is head of Congress, won last week's election with 36.8 percent of votes, according to the country's election tribunal. He has vowed to tame drug violence.
Xiomara Castro ran as the candidate of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) - a coalition of leftist politicians, unions and indigenous groups founded by her husband. She came second with 28.79 percent of the vote.
But Castro and Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup that plunged Honduras into a deep political crisis, have refused to acknowledge the results, demanding a recount and setting the stage for a protracted conflict.
"If we revise the ballot boxes, LIBRE won the election," Zelaya told Sunday's protest, the first called by LIBRE since the election. "We don't want fraud in Honduras. We don't want a government born out of cheating and deception."
LIBRE has said it will keep protesting and Zelaya says the party is willing to go the nation's supreme court to annul the election result.
But given Honduras' recent history of political instability, analysts applauded the fact that the march was peaceful.
"LIBRE's decision to take its accusations of fraud down a peaceful and legal path guarantees the political stability of Honduras in the short term," said analyst Francisco Zaravia.
Castro and Zelaya appeared at the march alongside the coffin of 58-year-old Antonio Ardon, a well-known LIBRE supporter who was shot dead by four unknown assailants in Tegucigalpa on Saturday night.
Zelaya said Ardon's killing was politically motivated and perpetrated by "death squads." Honduran police said they did not yet know the motive for the killing.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Frances Kerry)