Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was kept from landing at the country's main airport today because the runway was blocked by military vehicles and groups of soldiers, some of them clashing with a crowd of thousands outside.
His Venezuelan pilots circled around the airport and decided not to risk a crash.
Mr Zelaya instead headed for El Salvador via Nicaragua, and vowed to try again today or tomorrow in his high-stakes effort to return to power in a country where all branches of government have lined up against him.
“I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing my people,” Mr Zelaya said from the plane.
“Today I feel like I have sufficient spiritual strength, blessed with the blood of Christ, to be able to arrive there and raise the crucifix.”
But interim President Roberto Micheletti insisted on keeping him out, and said he won’t negotiate until “things return to normal”.
“We will be here until the country calms down,” Mr Micheletti said. “We are the authentic representatives of the people.”
Mr Micheletti also accused Nicaragua of moving troops in an attempt at psychological intimidation, and warned them not to cross into Honduras, “because we’re ready to defend our border”.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called the allegation “totally false”.
Violence broke out among the huge crowd surrounding the airport in Tegucigalpa, with at least one man killed – shot in the head from inside the airport as people tried to break through a security fence.
At least 30 people were treated for injuries, the Red Cross said, after security forces fired warning shots and tear gas.
When Mr Zelaya’s plane was turned away, his supporters began chanting “We want blue helmets!” – a reference to UN peacekeepers.
Karin Antunez, 27, was in tears.
“We’re scared. We feel sad because these coup soldiers won’t let Mel return, but we’re not going to back down,” she said. “We’re the people and we’re going to keep marching so that our president comes home.”
Mr Zelaya called on the United Nations, the OAS, the United States and European countries to “do something with this repressive regime.
“We should look for an immediate solution,” Mr Zelaya told Venezuela’s Telesur network.
He landed in Nicaragua and met briefly with Mr Ortega, then flew to El Salvador for consultations with the presidents of Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador and the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, who flew there from Washington.
“We have to set a precedent and demand that we cannot tolerate – being the democratic presidents we are – that the constitutional order be broken in our countries,” Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said in a news conference with Mr Zelaya and the other dignitaries.
Mr Zelaya won wide international support after his military ousting, but the presidents decided it was too dangerous to fly on Mr Zelaya’s plane, which carried only his close advisers and staff, two journalists from the Venezuela-based network Telesur and UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and former foreign minister.
Honduras’ new government has vowed to arrest Mr Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.
Mr Zelaya also refused to comply with a Supreme Court ruling against his planned referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution.