Sunday, July 5, 2009

AFP - Zelaya fails to return to Honduras, violence spirals

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) — Military vehicles blocked the runway to prevent ousted President Manuel Zelaya from landing in Honduras, shortly after troops clashed with his supporters, killing two, according to police.

Zelaya attempted his return to the crisis-gripped nation one week after he was kicked out of power, as tensions reached breaking point, with tens of thousands of his supporters massed at the heavily-militarized airport.

Shortly afterwards his plane landed in Nicaragua, officials in El Salvador said, adding that he was later due to arrive in San Salvador.

Troops fired tear gas and shot on angry protesters trying to break into airport, killing two and injuring at least two others, police said, ahead of Zelaya's much-anticipated arrival.

In a dramatic climax to the day's tensions, at least half a dozen military vehicles from the same army that sent Zelaya away in his pajamas one week ago blocked the runway as Zelaya's plane circled overhead.

Zelaya spoke live from the airplane on Venezuela's Telesur television, rebroadcast on CNN in Spanish.

"I'm doing everything I can," Zelaya said. "If I had a parachute I would immediately jump out of this plane."

Zelaya said he would denounce the situation in Honduras to the international community.

"From tomorrow the responsibility will fall on the powers, particularly the United States," Zelaya added.

Zelaya was due to join the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay, who shortly beforehand landed in El Salvador, according to local press, along with the head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza.

The pan-American OAS suspended Honduras in an emergency session the previous night, after the interim leaders refused to reinstall Zelaya.

Interim leader Roberto Micheletti ramped up tensions Sunday by alleging that Nicaraguan troops were moving toward the countries' joint border, a claim Nicaraguan military immediately denied.

"We have been informed that in the sector of Nicaragua, some troops are moving toward the border," Micheletti said in a televised news conference.

In Managua, Nicaraguan general Adolfo Zepeda shot back that the information was "totally false."

Amid growing international isolation, interim leaders also said they had put forward an offer for dialogue in "good faith" with the OAS, after they previously said they were pulling out of the body ahead of the suspension.

But Micheletti also said that no one would pressure him, and still insisted he had taken power in a "constitutional succession."

The OAS suspended Honduras late Saturday in the first such move since the exclusion of Cuba in 1962.

Members of the pan-American body slammed the leaders of the coup which saw the army remove Zelaya at the height of a dispute with the courts, politicians and the army over his plans to change the constitution, which opponents said included an attempt to stand for a second term.

Night time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- and media blackouts have since ramped up tension in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

A freezing of millions of dollars of international aid, regional trade blockades and recalls of foreign ambassadors have also hit the country in the past week.

Chavez, Zelaya's main backer, has said that Venezuela would suspend key shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

Zelaya fails to return to Honduras, violence spirals

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