Honduras' Zelaya vows to return
Ousted president's statement comes as regional body demands that he be reinstated.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2009 22:04 GMT

The Honduran military has been on alert
in the midst of public protests [AFP]

The ousted president of Honduras has said that he will return to the country at the weekend in an attempt to reclaim power.

Manuel Zelaya's statement, issued in Panama on Wednesday, came after the Organisation of American States (OAS) gave Honduras a 72-hour deadline to restore him to the presidency or face expulsion from the group.

"We will wait 72 hours in order to continue with this process [to return to Honduras]", in light of the OAS decision, Zelaya said in Panama City, where he was due to attend the inauguration of the new Panamanian president.

"My return to Honduras is scheduled for the weekend," he said without specifying an exact day. He had said a day earlier that he planned to return to Honduras on Thursday.

Zelaya will be accompanied home by Jose Miguel Insulza, the OAS secretary-general, the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador, and Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, the head of the UN General Assembly.

Arrest warning

Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed interim leader by the Honduran congress just hours after the military-backed coup, has given warning that Zelaya will be arrested should he return, regardless of who is travelling with him.

Zelaya was forced by the military to go into exile in Costa Rica on Sunday.

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Insulza said on Wednesday that he had delivered an "ultimatum" to Honduras after an emergency meeting of the OAS.

Speaking from the OAS headquarters in Washington DC, he said: "We need to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted.

"If within 72 hours the reinstatement doesn't happen, the assembly ... will meet again to suspend Honduras."

The move came hours after the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya to the Honduran presidency.

The resolution came as supporters of both Zelaya and his interim replacement demonstrated in the country's largest cities.

Deeply polarised

Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from San Pedro Sula, Honduras' commercial capital, said the protests were evidence that the coup had left the country deeply polarised.
"The police said for the moment that they have avoided a full-scale confrontation, but tensions are clearly mounting and anti-riot troops have cordoned off government buildings and shielded supporters of the military-installed government," she said.

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"Zelaya supporters have called for a general strike until he returns. Many said he was a president who was helping the poor.

"But only blocks away, others said Zelaya was a threat to democracy, too easily influenced by left-wing governments like Venezuela and trying to modify the constitution to remain in power."

Meanwhile, Micheletti, who is a former parliamentary speaker from the same Liberal party as Zelaya, has vowed not to resign as interim president, saying that only an armed invasion would restore his ousted predecessor.

"No one can make me resign," Micheletti said.

"[Zelaya] can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns."

'Legal process'

Micheletti has insisted that Zelaya was not ousted through a coup but through "a completely legal process as set out in our laws", calling the move an "act of democracy".

Country facts

 Second largest country in Central America
 Population of 7.2 million
 Second poorest country in the region
 Economy forecast to grow less than two per cent this year
 Relies on money from Hondurans in the US for more than 25 per cent of its gross domestic product
 Former Spanish colony gained independence in 1821

Zelaya was removed from power as he was about to press ahead with a non-binding referendum on constitutional change on Sunday.

Congress and the courts had declared the move to hold a public vote illegal, accusing Zelaya of trying to change the charter to enable him to run for a second term in office.

Mariana Sanchez, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Honduras, said that Micheletti's government has remained defiant against international pressure, with the interim foreign minister accusing Zelaya of involvement in a drugs ring.

"We understand that last Friday a brief of investigation into Zelaya's alleged links to drugs was sent to the congress for the first time," our correspondent said.

"We have been told that there were no previous investigations at congress about drug links to Zelaya.

"So, some analysts are saying that this investigation is all very suspicious [so soon after the coup]."

The US has not legally classified the removal of Zelaya as a coup, as this would automatically lead to the suspension of aid to Honduras, an impoverished nation of 7.2 million people.

But the Pentagon on Wednesday suspended all military activities with Tegucigalpa until further notice.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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