June 30, 2009

Zelaya prepares to defy military coup

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has announced that he will return to his country on Thursday to reclaim control from the military.

Flanked by progressive Latin American leaders who have vowed to help him regain power, Mr Zelaya said at a news conference in Nicaragua last night that he would accept an offer by Organisation of American States secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza to accompany him back to Honduras and work for the restoration of the democratic order.

The military coup which forced him out has provoked the condemnation of world leaders from US President Barack Obama to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and sparked clashes in Tegucigalpa that left over 150 injured.

Mr Zelaya announced that he will return after attending a meeting of the UN general assembly to seek the support of the international community "and I want the support of whoever thinks I have the right to finish my presidency."

Honduran military leaders seized him on Sunday and flew him to Costa Rica.

They asserted that Mr Zelaya had been legally overthrown because he violated the constitution by sponsoring a referendum that was barred by the Supreme Court.

But many Honduran citizens disagree and thousands have clashed with police and soldiers outside the national palace since the coup, demanding the restoration of democracy.

Classes remained suspended at public universities in Tegucigalpa, while secondary school teachers walked out of classrooms to take part in the rallies demanding Mr Zelaya's reinstatement.

Mr Zelaya said that he would call for dialogue and urged soldiers to return to their barracks.

"In the name of God, in the name of the people, stop repressing the people. If the people want to express themselves, don't press them," he pleaded.

Mr Zelaya said that, according to the information available to him, over 150 people had been injured and 50 arrested, but he added that he didn't "have exact figures, because I'm not there."

Rifle-toting soldiers briefly detained four journalists from Associated Press and three from Venezuela-based Telesur at their Tegucigalpa hotel on Monday, bundling them in a military vehicle and taking them to an immigration office, where two officials demanded to see their visas.

The group was released a short time later.

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