Military coup in Honduras: Protesters demand return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya

Demonstrations in capital after 56-year-old ruler removed from power in military coup

Protesters take to the streets of Tegucigalpa after troops ousted President Manuel Zelaya

Protesters in Honduras yesterday put up roadblocks in the capital, Tegucigalpa, as they demanded the return of the president, Manuel Zelaya, hours after he was ousted in a military coup.

Hundreds of people, some wearing masks and armed with sticks, put up barricades near the presidential palace as governments across the region condemned the first military overthrow in central America since the end of the cold war.

What has so far been a bloodless coup could yet turn lethal.

Shots were fired near the presidential palace last night,but it was unclear who was shooting or whether there were any casualties.

Soldiers seized Zelaya, who was in his pyjamas, early yesterday and took him to neighbouring Costa Rica by plane.

The 56-year-old president, looking dishevelled but calm, said he had been expelled by “rightwing oligarchs” and promised to return to Honduras.

Zelaya, who had been in office since 2006, was ousted after clashing with the judiciary, congress and the army over proposed constitutional changes that would allow presidents to seek re-election.

The US and European Union joined Latin American governments in denouncing the coup.

In Honduras, however, the establishment rallied around the army’s action.

Congress named an interim president, Roberto Micheletti, who announced an immediate curfew for Sunday and Monday nights. The country’s leading court said it had authorised the toppling of the president.

The protests in Tegucigalpa were small, but defiant civilians shouted insults and slapped soldiers occupying the presidential palace. Most Hondurans, who are bitterly divided over Zelaya, stayed indoors.

The deposed leader was due to meet leftwing allies in Nicaragua today for an emergency summit likely to be dominated by Zelaya’s mentor, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez.

Chávez put Venezuelan troops on alert and vowed do everything necessary to restore his ally, whom he claimed may have been ousted by Washington’s hand.

Analysts, however, expressed doubt that he had either the will or the capacity for military intervention.

The US president, Barack Obama, distanced the US from any involvement in the coup.

“Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference,” he said. Washington said it recognised only Zelaya as president.

Honduras, an impoverished coffee, textile and banana exporter, has been politically stable since the end of military rule in the early 1980s. It was a solid Washington ally in the cold war and still has a US military base.

Zelaya, a rich and flamboyant landowner, was elected as a conservative but in the past two years embraced Chávez’s form of “21st century socialism”.

He was popular among much of the Honduran poor, but his overall ratings were down to 30%.

Last week, Zelaya tried to fire the armed forces chief, General Romeo Vasquez, in a dispute over an attempt to hold an unofficial referendum about changing the constitution to allow presidential terms beyond a single, four-year stretch.

Under the constitution as it stands, Zelaya would have been due to leave office in early 2010.

The supreme court, which last week ordered him to reinstate Vasquez, said yesterday it had told the army to remove the president.

Monday 29 June 2009 16.36 BST
Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent, and agencies

Source: The Guardian

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