Ousted Honduran Leader May Face Arrest On Return

By: AP
By: AP

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras' ousted president, bolstered by international support, said he will return home this week to regain control. The man who replaced him said Tuesday that Manuel Zelaya could be met with an arrest warrant.

The military coup on Sunday provoked nearly universal condemnation from governments of the Western Hemisphere, from President Barack Obama to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and it sparked clashes in the Honduran capital that have left dozens of people injured.

Flanked by Latin American leaders who have vowed to help him regain power, Manuel Zelaya said late Monday that Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had agreed to accompany him back to Honduras.

But the man named by Honduras' Congress as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, indicated Tuesday that Zelaya would risk arrest if he returns because "the courts of my country have issued arrest orders" against him.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who has forged close ties with Chavez, said he wanted to return to Tegucigalpa on Thursday after attending a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to seek support from its 192 member nations.

"I want the support of whoever thinks I have the right to finish my presidency," Zelaya said at a late night news conference in Nicaragua, where he earlier received a standing ovation during a meeting of Latin American leaders.

Just as significant was the support of the U.S. president.

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there," Obama said in Washington. "It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

Micheletti, speaking to Colombia's Caracol Radio, insisted that it was Zelaya who had violated the constitution and that his court-ordered removal was legal.

"We have not committed a coup d'etat, but a constitutional succession," he said.

Congress and the Supreme Court accuse Zelaya of maneuvering to illegally rewrite the constitution — apparently in hopes of extending his rule.

While Zelaya may face arrest warrants, Micheletti's foreign minister said the overthrown leader "is not banned from entering Honduras."

Enrique Ortez Colindres told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Zelaya would have to seek foreign ministry permission to enter the country, and "he would not be considered president, but a common citizen." Ortez did not say why Zelaya would require special permission to return and did not say if he would grant it.

Ortez said, however, he looked forward to meeting OAS officials "so they can realize that this is a government that respects all laws and the only thing it did was to remove a president for systematically violating the constitution."

Zelaya has called for supporters to stage peaceful protests in Honduras, and thousands answered the call on Monday.

Soldiers and police set up a chain link fence before dawn Tuesday to seal off the area in front of the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa where thousands of protesters clashed with riot police the day before.

There were no signs of protests in the moments after a dusk to dawn curfew decreed by the new government expired, but pro-Zelaya unions had forced the closure of several clinics in the capital.

Natidad Baleriano, 59, was among about 20 people waiting outside a locked gate at the Sanidad Hospital Tuesday. He pressed a tissue to his brow to stop the bleeding from a gash he said he suffered when he stumbled on the sidewalk and fell, and said he had already been turned away from another clinic.

"I'm an Air Force veteran and I still didn't get any attention," he said, while his frustrated wife shouted, "Where do we go now? What do we do?"

Security forces on Monday used tear gas and rubber bullets to scatter protesters, who hurled rocks and bottles as they retreated. At least 38 protesters were detained, said Sandra Ponce, a government human rights official.

Congresswoman Silvia Ayala said she counted 30 injured at a single Tegucigalpa hospital and an Associated Press photographer in another area close to the palace saw protesters carrying away five injured people.

"In the name of God, in the name of the people, stop repressing the people," Zelaya said in Nicaragua, urging soldiers to return to their barracks.

Zelaya said more than 150 people were injured and 50 were arrested but added that he didn't "have exact figures, because I'm not there."

The loudest voice calling for Zelaya's return has been Chavez, who has urged a rebellion by the Honduran people.

"I'll do everything possible to overthrow this gorilla government of Honduras. It must be overthrown," the socialist leader said. "The rebellion in Honduras must be supported."

Chavez vowed to halt shipments of subsidized oil to Honduras, though the country gets most of its oil comes from other sources.

Mexico's conservative government joined the region's leftist leaders in pulling its ambassador from Honduras and neighboring Central American countries announced financial sanctions.

The Organization of American States called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to consider suspending Honduras under an agreement meant to prevent the sort of coups that for generations made Latin America a spawning ground of military dictatorships.

Meanwhile, the replacement government insisted that no coup had taken place because the Supreme Court had ordered the army into action in response and Congress had immediately named a replacement president, Roberto Micheletti, to serve out the final seven months of Zelaya's term.

Micheletti vowed to ignore foreign pressure and began naming Cabinet members, including a new minister of defense.

Zelaya alienated the courts, Congress, the military and even his own party in his tumultuous three years in power but maintains the support of many of Honduras' poor.

Officers armed with rifles briefly detained four journalists from the AP and three from Venezuela-based Telesur at their hotel, loading them in a military vehicle and taking them to an immigration office, where two officials demanded to see their visas. The group was released a short time later.

Coups were common in Central America until the 1980s, but Sunday's ouster was the first military power grab in Latin America since a brief, failed 2002 coup against Chavez.

It was the first military ouster of a Central American president since 1993, when Guatemalan military officials refused to accept President Jorge Serrano's attempt to seize absolute power and removed him. They turned over power to a civilian within days.

Honduras had not seen a coup since 1978, when one military government overthrew another.


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