Deposed Honduran president holed up in embassy

Baton-wielding soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands who demonstrated outside the Brazilian Embassy on Tuesday, leaving deposed President Manuel Zelaya and 70 friends and relatives trapped inside without water, electricity or phones.

“We know we are in danger,” Zelaya said during interviews with various media outlets. “We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice.”

Heavily armed soldiers stood guard on neighboring rooftops and helicopters buzzed overhead.

Zelaya, forced out of his country at gunpoint on June 28, triumphantly popped up in the capital Monday, telling captivated supporters that after three months of international exile and a secretive 15-hour cross-country journey, he was ready to lead again.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti’s response was terse: Initially he said Zelaya was lying about being back. Then after Zelaya appeared on national television, Micheletti pressed Brazil to hand him over under a warrant issued by the Supreme Court charging treason and abuse of authority.

Some officials suggested even Brazil’s embassy would be no haven for the ousted leader.

“The inviolability of a diplomatic mission does not imply the protection of delinquents or fugitives from justice,” said Micheletti’s foreign ministry adviser, Mario Fortinthe.

Police and soldiers set up a ring of security in a three-mile (five-kilometer) perimeter around the embassy and could be seen detaining people in some areas. The government said in a broadcast statement that security forces “have orders to detain those people getting together in neighborhoods with the purpose of causing uneasiness to the rest of the population.”

The statement denied local media reports that three people were killed outside the embassy.

Security Ministry spokesman Orlin Cerrato told The Associated Press that two policemen were beaten and 174 people were being held on charges of disorderly conduct and vandalism. A doctor interviewed by Radio Globo said 18 people had been treated at the public hospital for injuries.

A 26-hour curfew imposed Monday afternoon closed businesses and schools, leaving the capital’s streets nearly deserted. All the nation’s international airports and border posts were closed and roadblocks set up to keep Zelaya supporters from massing for protests.

Tuesday evening the government announced the curfew was being extended 12 more hours, until 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Micheletti, who has promised to step down after a November presidential election that was scheduled before Zelaya’s ouster, repeated his insistence that there had never been a coup — just a “constitutional succession” ordered by the courts and approved by Congress.

“Coups do not allow freedom of assembly,” he wrote in a column published Tuesday in the Washington Post. “They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant.”

Zelaya loyalists ignored the curfew Monday night and surrounded the embassy dancing and cheering. But troops moved in early Tuesday and cleared them from the streets with clubs, tear gas, jets of water and deafening music.

Some tear gas canisters fell inside the compound, where Zelaya, his wife, some of their children, Cabinet members and journalists held hushed conversations, napped on couches and curled up on the floor beneath travel posters of Brazilian beaches.

Prosecutor’s spokesman Melvin Duarte said about 85 people voluntarily left the embassy and no charges would be lodged against any of them.

“They are people who took refuge at the embassy when protesters were cleared from the area this morning,” he said.

Zelaya said he had no plans to leave and he repeatedly asked to speak with Micheletti.

There are no negotiations, however, and with his embassy the new hotspot in the Honduran crisis, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Zelaya and pressed him not to do anything that might provoke an invasion of the diplomatic mission.

Silva’s government decided Tuesday to ask for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to deal with the situation in Honduras, Brazil’s private Agencia Estado news agency reported. Brazil’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately return an Associated Press phone call seeking comment.

Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Micheletti’s government sent an “impertinent and inadequate” note Monday to the embassy announcing it would seal off the compound.

Embassy staff were told to stay home and most did, while embassy charge d’affaires Francisco Catunda Resende said water, phone and electricity services had been cut off, leaving the mission with a diesel-powered generator, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said. Services were restored Tuesday afternoon.

A U.N. truck showed up at the embassy with hot dogs to feed Zelaya supporters and Brazilian staffers — the only food U.N. workers could find in a city where nearly every business was closed.

“We brought what we could find,” said U.N. worker Pedro Dimaggio.

Zelaya supporter Loliveth Andino stood alone outside an army barricade near the embassy and voiced hope that Zelaya could return to the presidency.

“He was the one who made sure our rights were respected and our voices were heard,” Andino said.

Diplomats around the world, from the European Union to the U.S. State Department, urged calm while repeating their recognition of Zelaya as Honduras’ legitimate president.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States who is trying to persuade Micheletti to step down and return Zelaya to power to serve out his term that ends in January, said he was “very concerned” that the situation could turn violent.

“It’s a hostile situation and I hope the de facto government fulfills its obligation to respect this diplomatic seat,” Insulza said.

Zelaya apparently timed his surprise arrival in Honduras’ capital to coincide with world leaders gathering this week at the United Nations in New York, putting renewed international pressure on the interim government, which has shrugged aside sharp foreign aid cuts and diplomatic denunciations since the coup.

Zelaya was removed in June after he repeatedly ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on reforming the constitution. His opponents claimed he wanted to end a constitutional ban on re-election — a charge Zelaya denied.

The Supreme Court ordered his arrest, and the Honduran Congress, alarmed by his increasingly close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, backed the army as it forced him into exile in Costa Rica.

Since his ouster, Zelaya has traveled around the region to lobby for support from political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

U.S.-backed talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled over the interim government’s refusal to accept Zelaya’s reinstatement to the presidency. Arias’ proposal would limit Zelaya’s powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution.

Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, said in New York on Tuesday that Zelaya is still willing to sign the plan proposed by Arias.


2 Responses

  1. I wish peolple were here to see what Zelayas people are capables of. The worst thing is that the US Embassador was instructed to transport Zelaya to US soil.

  2. And that Rodas lady is the best liar of them all. Zelaya called Nicaraguas Presidente Ortega and requested that he announce to the OAS Assembly that he isnt going to accept the Arias proposal.

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