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Ousted Zelaya 'returns to Honduras'
Deposed president says he is in Honduran capital, nearly three months after coup.
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2009 18:33 GMT

Zelaya had tried unsuccessfully on two previous occasions to return after being deposed [AFP]

The ousted president of Honduras says he has returned to his home country, nearly three months after he was forced from power and into exile by a military-backed coup.

"I am here in Tegucigalpa [the Honduran capital]. I am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue," Manuel Zelaya told Honduras' Canal 36 television network on Monday.

Monica Villamizar, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Washington DC, said she had been told that Zelaya was in Honduras.

"I spoke to the Honduran ambassador here at the OAS [Organistaion of American States] here [in the US] and he [said] that it is true - they had not told the press," she said.

"Zelaya apparently went into the country by land, and they wanted this to be completely in secret, in the middle of the night.

"There is a crowd gathering outside of the United Nations building in Tegucigalpa and they're waiting to see him. But we haven't had confirmation that anyone has actually seen him there."

Scores of Zelaya supporters celebrated outside the UN office in the Honduran capital after hearing of the deposed leader's apparent return.

Arrest warning

Ian Kelly, a spokesman for the US state department, said that Zelaya was in Honduras, although he said that US officials did not know his precise location.

Country profile

  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

A spokeswoman for the Honduran embassy in Nicaragua, where Zelaya had been exiled, said that Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa.

"He is in Honduras and calling the resistance to gather in front of the United Nations and protect the constitutional president of Honduras," Elizabeth Sierra said.

But Ana Elsy Mendoza, a spokeswoman at the United Nations' offices in Tegucigalpa, told The Associated Press that Zelaya was not inside the building.

"I have no idea where that story came from," she said.

Roberto Micheletti, the president of the military-backed interim government, also said that Zelaya is not in the Honduran capital.

Zelaya's apparent return to Honduras comes despite warnings by the country's military-backed interim government that he would be arrested if he came home.

"If it is true that Zelaya is in the United Nations building, arresting him there would be a lot harder [as] he would be getting the protection of the United Nations," Villamizar said.

Zelaya was forced from power by the military on June 28, the same day that he planned to hold a non-binding referendum on changes to the constitution.

Coup condemned

The country's supreme court and congress opposed the public vote, saying that Zelaya was trying to win support to allow presidents to serve more than a single term.

People celebrated in Tegucigalpa after hearing of Zelaya's apparent return home [AFP]

Zelaya has denied the claims, saying that the constitutional changes he sought were aimed at improving the lives of the poor.

The coup was condemned by the US government, the European Union and governments across Latin America.

The deposed president had tried on two separate occasions to return to his home country.

On his first attempt on July 5, his aircraft was prevented from landing at Tegucigalpa, while a second effort to re-enter the country by land on July 25 was prevented by Honduran security forces.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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