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Zelaya return draws Honduras curfew
Military-backed government demands Brazil embassy hand over ousted president.
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2009 15:37 GMT

Zelaya urged supporters to protect him and prevent his arrest or even possible assassination [Reuters]

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

Manuel Zelaya took refuge at the Brazilian embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Monday, prompting Roberto Micheletti, the man who replaced him, to declare an overnight curfew and demand that Brazil hand him over.

Zelaya told Al Jazeera by phone that he had returned to "solve problems in an attitude of peace, without weapons, without violence".

"I hope that the international community will support me," he said.

Supporters gather

In video


Zelaya's return to Honduras prompts curfew

"I am calling on the people of Honduras to come to the embassy to protect me because there is word that [the interim government] will arrest me and there is word that they will try to assassinate me."

Several thousand Zelaya supporters gathered outside the embassy where the ousted leader could be seen waving to supporters, as helicopters flew overhead and a small group of police stood nearby.

Micheletti, said "law and order prevail" in the country despite Zelaya's return and urged citizens to "remain calm".

But he declared a curfew and accused Zelaya of trying to disrupt elections planned for November.

"I cannot reach another conclusion other than that he is here to continue hampering the celebration of our elections next November 29 as he has done so far, as well as his followers for a few weeks now.

"But his presence in the country does not change the commitment of all Hondurans with regards to the electoral process," he added.

Saying that the issue with Zelaya was an internal problem, Micheletti warned Brazil that "the eyes of the world are placed on Brazil and also Honduras. Let's not allow passions of a few stain the reputation and image of our people".

"I make a call to the government of Brazil so that they respect the judicial order against Mr Zelaya and hand him over to the authorities of Honduras," he said.

US urges dialogue

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

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Monday that it was "imperative that dialogue begin" between Zelaya and the de facto government.

"It's also imperative that the return of President Zelaya does not lead to any conflict or violence but instead that everyone act in a peaceful way to try to find some common ground," she told reporters.

Referring to his journey home, Zelaya said he "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."

And he said his return had put the country's army in a difficult position.

"The head of the army continues to support Roberto Micheletti 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.

The ousted president had been in exile mostly in Nicaragua while the de facto government that backed the coup against him became more entrenched in office, defying international calls to allow his return.

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

Government weakened

"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.

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

She said that 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 had undermined the interim authorities.

"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."

Zelaya was forced from the presidential palace by the military on June 28 and sent into exile, a move that Micheletti maintained on Monday was legal "due to a decision made by the supreme court of justice and the national congress".

He was ousted on the same day that he planned to hold a non-binding referendum on changes to the constitution, a move opposed by the supreme court and congress, which accused Zelaya of 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.

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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