Ex-leader's Honduras return sparks riots

Honduras was sealed off from the world today after its deposed president made a dramatic return that sparked off street riots.

Police fired tear gas to move thousands of demonstrators away from the Brazilian embassy where Manuel Zelaya is holed up to avoid arrest.

Mr Zelaya said he had no plans to leave the haven at the embassy where he arrived yesterday, but wants talks with interim president Roberto Micheletti, who took power after a June coup.

With its embassy at the centre of the Honduran crisis, Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pressed Mr Zelaya not to do anything that might provoke officials to force their way in.

Diplomats around the world, from the European Union to the US State Department, were urging calm. And the secretary general of the Organisation of American States, who is trying to convince Mr Micheletti to step down and put Mr Zelaya back in power, said he was “very concerned” that the situation could turn violent.

“They have been calling us a lot from there. It’s a hostile situation and I hope the defacto government fulfils its obligation to respect this diplomatic seat,” said Jose Miguel Insulza.

So far, the government has refused to budge on demands to reinstate Mr Zelaya.

It asked Brazil to hand him over for arrest on charges of violating Honduras’ constitution as president and an adviser to the foreign ministry, Mario Fortin, denied that international law would keep officials from raiding the embassy to grab him.

“The inviolability of a diplomatic mission does not imply the protection of delinquents or fugitives from justice,” he said.

“My country is in an unusual position this week,” Mr Micheletti wrote in a letter published today in the Washington Post. “Former president Manuel Zelaya has surreptitiously returned to Honduras, still claiming to be the country’s legitimate leader, despite the fact that a constitutional succession took place on June 28...

“That the people of Honduras have moved on since the events of that day,” Micheletti wrote, saying that the country is “looking forward to free, fair and transparent elections on November 29.”

Supported by the US and other governments since his removal, Mr Zelaya apparently timed his surprise arrival in Honduras’ capital to coincide with world leaders gathering this week at the United Nations in New York, putting renewed international pressure on the interim government to let him return to power.

The government ordered a shutdown of the capital, closed all airports and border posts and put roadblocks on roads leading into town to keep Zelaya supporters from staging the sort of protests that disrupted the city after his overthrow.

Zelaya loyalists ignored the decree and surrounded the embassy, dancing and cheering.

Mr Zelaya was removed after he ignored court orders and tried to hold a referendum that would reform the constitution. His opponents feared he wanted to end a constitutional ban on re-election.

But the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, and the Honduran Congress, alarmed by his increasingly close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, backed the army as it forced him into exile in Costa Rica.

For the past three months Mr Zelaya has travelled to various countries meeting with political leaders to gather support.

Talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled over the interim government’s refusal to accept Mr Zelaya’s reinstatement to the presidency. That proposed power-sharing agreement, now being reintroduced in the midst of his return, would limit his powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution.

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