Honduras coup draws global ire

World leaders seek return of Zelaya as the president

Supporters of Honduras's President Manuel Zelaya clash with police near the presidential residency yesterday. Supporters of Honduras's President Manuel Zelaya clash with police near the presidential residency yesterday. (Edgard Garrido/ Reuters)
By Will Weissert and Freddy Cuevas
Associated Press / June 30, 2009
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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Police fired tear gas to hold back thousands of Hondurans outside the occupied national palace yesterday as world leaders from Barack Obama to Hugo Chavez appealed to Honduras to reverse a coup that ousted the president.

Roberto Micheletti, whom Congress appointed president Sunday, vowed to resist the pressure and serve out the term of Manuel Zelaya, which expires in January. He insisted that Zelaya was legally removed by the courts and Congress for violating Honduras’s constitution, allegedly by trying to extend his rule.

Zelaya was arrested in his pajamas by soldiers who stormed his residence and flew him into exile. Central America’s first coup in at least 16 years was a blow from the barracks that reminded many of the military dictatorships the region has tried to bury in its past.

Obama said the United States still considers Zelaya the president of Honduras. He said the United States will “stand on the side of democracy’’ and work with other nations and international groups to resolve the matter peacefully.

“We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there,’’ Obama said.

Zelaya attended a meeting in Nicaragua of a bloc of nine leftist nations, which agreed to remove their ambassadors from Honduras until Zelaya is restored and to reject diplomats from the replacement government.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, one of the leaders in Nicaragua, urged Hondurans to rise up against the new leadership, saying, “We’re ready to support the rebellion of the Honduran people.’’ Chavez, who earlier vowed to “overthrow’’ Micheletti, did not say what kind of support Venezuela would provide.

Micheletti shrugged off the threat, telling HRN radio: “Nobody scares us.’’

Outside the presidential palace, a crowd that burned tires and blocked streets grew into the thousands by midday. At one point, riot police posted between troops and protesters fired several cannisters of tear gas and reporters saw at least five people detained. There were no reports of broader disturbances.

“We want our elected and democratic president, not this other one that the world doesn’t recognize,’’ said Marco Gallo, 50, a retired teacher.

Most people in the capital went about business as usual. Nearly all businesses were open and traffic flowed normally aside from a small part of downtown Tegucigalpa.

Micheletti said he was sure that “80 to 90 percent of the Honduran population is happy with what happened.’’

True or false, the rest of the world certainly was not, and the president of the UN General Assembly invited Zelaya to address the world gathering.

The Organization of American States called for Zelaya’s return and summoned a meeting of foreign ministers today that could make Honduras the first nation suspended from the organization under a 2001 charter banning “the unconstitutional interruption of democratic order.’’ UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Rio Group, which comprises 23 nations from the hemisphere, also condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s return.

US diplomats said they are trying to ensure Zelaya’s safety and get him restored as president.