Zelaya's supporters flee embassy siege

Dozens of supporters abandoned former Honduras president Manuel Zelaya to an increasingly isolated embassy in the country’s capital today as the stand-off over his return continued.

Mr Zelaya, deposed in June, secretly returned on Monday and is holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The government has said it will not force its way inside to capture him, but diplomats and activists streamed out of the building overnight.

The entire country was largely shut down, with almost no cars or pedestrians in the streets and few businesses open under a nearly round-the-clock curfew.

Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the government would not yield on the central point demanded by the international community: the reinstatement of Mr Zelaya to serve out the remaining four months of his term.

The government briefly set up loudspeakers near the embassy and shut off water and power to the building, apparently to harass Mr Zelaya’s supporters inside. At least 85 Zelaya supporters and part of the embassy’s staff later left the building; none were detained. Services were later restored to the building.

“We know we are in danger,” Mr Zelaya said. “We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice.”

Soldiers stood guard on neighbouring rooftops and helicopters buzzed overhead. About 170 people detained in clashes outside the embassy were later released.

At the United Nations, Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Viotti asked the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on Honduras. She voiced concerns about the safety of the embassy and of Mr Zelaya.

Mr Zelaya, forced out of his country at gunpoint June 28, triumphantly popped up in the capital on Monday, telling supporters that after three months of international exile and a secretive 15-hour cross-country journey, he was ready to lead again.

He said that he had no plans to leave the embassy and he repeatedly asked to speak with interim President Roberto Micheletti.

Diplomats around the world, from the European Union to the US State Department, urged calm while repeating their recognition of Mr Zelaya as Honduras’ legitimate president.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organisation of American States who is trying to persuade Mr Micheletti to step down and restore Mr Zelaya to his office, said he was “very concerned” that the situation could turn violent.

The government said in a broadcast that security forces “have orders to detain those people getting together in neighbourhoods with the purpose of causing uneasiness to the rest of the population.” Raids targeted attempts by Zelaya backers to set up barricades of rocks or burning tires, mostly in poorer neighbourhoods.

A 26-hour curfew imposed on Monday afternoon has been extended indefinitely.

Mr Zelaya was removed after he repeatedly ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum calling for a popular assembly to reform the constitution. His opponents accused him of wanting to end the constitutional ban on re-election - a charge Mr Zelaya has repeatedly denied.

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.

Since his removal, Mr Zelaya has travelled around the region to lobby for support from political leaders.

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