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Diplomatic isolation, rhetoric intensify around Honduras

New leader says only invasion would halt coup

There were several demonstrations for and against the new leaders in Honduras yesterday, including one backing ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa. There were several demonstrations for and against the new leaders in Honduras yesterday, including one backing ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa. (Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)
By Will Weissert and Nestor Ikeda
Associated Press / July 2, 2009
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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Thousands of Hondurans demonstrated yesterday for the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who vowed to fly home this weekend despite a warrant for his arrest. Thousands more rallied in favor of the military-backed government.

Newly appointed President Roberto Micheletti said it would take a foreign invasion to put Zelaya back in power. He said he was sending a delegation to Washington in an attempt to reverse the country’s increasing international isolation, though his foreign minister later denied that.

France, Spain, Italy, Chile, and Colombia joined other nations yesterday in recalling their ambassadors. The Pentagon suspended joint US-Honduran military operations, and the World Bank said it was freezing loans. Honduras’s three neighbors have suspended cross-border trade.

Soldiers stormed Zelaya’s residence and flew him into exile Sunday after he insisted on trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans whether they want to change the constitution. The Supreme Court, Congress, and the military all deemed his planned ballot illegal. Zelaya backed down Tuesday, saying he will no longer push for constitutional changes.

Both sides of the dispute mobilized supporters in the streets yesterday, with a pro-Zelaya march in the capital and pro-Micheletti demonstrations in other cities. No violence was reported.

“We want Mel!’’ 30-year-old farmhand Javier Santos yelled over a megaphone, using Zelaya’s nickname, as marchers walked to the local offices of the Organization of American States and sang the national anthem, fists thrust skyward. Businesses quickly lowered their shutters as marchers approached.

The largest pro-Micheletti rally was in Choluteca, 75 miles south of the capital, where demonstrators wore the blue and white of the Honduran flag.

Those demonstrations received heavy coverage on Honduran television stations, which all but ignored the pro-Zelaya protests. Leftist broadcasters say they have been forced off the air or had signals interrupted by soldiers under orders of the new government. Micheletti said he would look into the allegations.

Seeking to stem internal unrest, Congress passed a bill yesterday that toughens a curfew in place since the coup. The law gives authorities the power to conduct warrantless searches and removes constitutional rights to assembly and movement during the 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.

The OAS gave Micheletti until Saturday to step aside before Honduras is suspended from the group, an ultimatum Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said was meant “to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted. We thought we were in an era when military coups were no longer possible in this hemisphere.’’

Zelaya delayed plans to return today.

“I’m going to respect those 72 hours that the OAS asked for,’’ he said in Panama, where he attended a presidential inauguration.

In an interview, Micheletti vowed Zelaya would be arrested if he returns, even though the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador have agreed to accompany him, along with the heads of the OAS and the UN General Assembly.

“He can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns,’’ Micheletti said.

He also made a bold claim, suggesting the entire Honduran population backs his interim government. Though Zelaya still enjoys strong support, especially among the poor majority, Micheletti warned that all “7.5 million Hondurans will be ready to defend our territory’’ against a foreign invasion.

His foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, also threatened Zelaya’s escorts, saying: “We will let his companions enter if they represent friendly countries. If not, no.’’

The new government was on a long-shot diplomatic offensive yesterday, ordering home Honduras’s pro-Zelaya ambassadors to the United States, the United Nations, and the OAS.