The military-backed interim government later imposed a curfew across the country.

"The government has declared the curfew for the entire country from four in the afternoon until 6 am, to conserve calm in the country," Rene Zepeda, a government spokesman, told Reuters.

However, hundreds of Zelaya supporters continued to cheer for the deposed president outside the Brazilian embassy.

Hazardous journey

Zelaya's return to Tegucigalpa comes after he was forced from the presidential palace by the military on June 28.

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

It comes in spite of warnings by the country's military-backed interim government that Zelaya would be arrested if he came home.

"I had to use various strategies; I had to avoid a lot of obstacles. I had to avoid military checkpoints, crossing very close to the mountains, sometimes through the valleys," Zelaya said, referring to his journey home.

Zelaya said that his return has placed the country's army in a difficult position.

"The head of the army continues to support Roberto Micheletti [the miltary-backed interim president] and the de facto government, but there is a rupture in the morale of the army. This will help in our quest for peace and dialogue," he said.

Vicki Gass, a senior associate for rights and development at the Washington Office on Latin America, said that Zelaya has "thrown down the gauntlet" by returning home.

"In some regards, that is a positive because there has been an impasse. The de facto government of Roberto Micheletti has been very intransigent [amid mediated efforts towards reaching a solution to the crisis]," she said.

While the leaders of the de facto government have remained steadfast that they would arrest Zelaya on his return, the move by the US to revoke the visas of several coup supporters has undermined the interim authorities, Gass said.

"The weakening is coming from the supporters of the coup, the economic elite whose visas have been cut," she said. 

"They are the ones who are feeling the pinch. Not only have 19 visas been cut - another 100 are in the waiting. It's the business - the economic supporters of the coup - who are going to be hit."

Supporters celebrate

Ian Kelly, a spokesman for the US state department, said that US officials were aware that Zelaya was in Honduras.

A spokeswoman for the Honduran embassy in Nicaragua, where Zelaya had been exiled, also 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.

Roberto Micheletti, the president of the military-backed interim government, earlier denied that Zelaya was in the Honduran capital.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that Honduras' de facto government "should be responsible for the safety of President Zelaya and the Brazilian Embassy."

June coup

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

Zelaya supporters celebrated after hearing of his apparent return [AFP]

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.

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.