Authorities here closed the airport and restricted the airspace over the nation’s capital in anticipation of deposed President Jose Manuel Zelaya’s announced return Sunday.
In an interview from Washington with Telesur TV, Zelaya said he was departing for Honduras on a plane with United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto. A delegation supporting Zelaya, including the head of the Organization of American States and Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, would fly on a separate plane to nearby El Salvador. The government of provisional President Roberto Micheletti has vowed to arrest Zelaya if he returns and has denied permission for Zelaya’s plane to land. Witnesses said the road to the airport in the capital of Tegucigalpa was closed. Video showed dozens of pro-Zelaya demonstrators marching toward the airport. The leftist Zelaya was ousted in a military-led coup one week ago, on the same day he planned to follow through with a referendum that the courts and the congress had ruled illegal and that the military said it would not support. The Honduran Congress voted to strip Zelaya of his powers and named Micheletti as provisional president. Sunday’s political standoff follows a vote Saturday by the Organization of American States to suspend Honduras from the organization after the provisional government failed to respond to a 72-hour deadline to restore Zelaya as president. In a resolution, the OAS had demanded Zelaya’s return. After a visit to Honduras, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said he found Micheletti’s government “extremely firm” and “inflexible.”
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Micheletti and his supporters have repudiated the characterization of the transfer of power as a coup. The provisional government maintains that the military action against Zelaya was backed by a court order and that arrest warrants have been issued against him for violating the constitution. But Micheletti is swimming against world opinion. The U.N. General Assembly condemned the coup last week and demanded that Zelaya be reinstated. The European Union and other nations have recalled their ambassadors from Honduras, and the United States and the World Bank have suspended some aid.
After 18 years of nearly uninterrupted military rule, Honduras returned to civilian control in 1981. Since then, the military has not seemed interested in holding power in the nation of more than 7 million people, about 70 percent of whom live in poverty. Military interventions were once common in Latin America, but civilian governments have held sway since the 1980s. Before Sunday, the only other barracks revolt this decade was an unsuccessful 2002 coup attempt against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, when the military displaced him but backed down days later and allowed his reinstatement.