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Honduras showdown looms

Sun., July 5, 2009

Zelaya says he’ll return today with entourage

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Ousted President Manuel Zelaya said Saturday that he would return to Honduras to try to retake office following last week’s military-backed coup, despite warnings of a potentially bloody confrontation and the interim government’s vow to arrest him and put him on trial.

Honduras rebuffed demands by the international community to reinstate Zelaya in the name of constitutional order, thrusting the poor Central American nation deeper into political crisis and isolation.

The Organization of American States met in Washington to consider suspending Honduras’ membership because of the coup – though even before the emergency session, the interim government decided to pull out of the OAS rather than meet its ultimatum to restore Zelaya.

Zelaya called on supporters to prepare to greet him at the airport today, and on Saturday more than 10,000 of them gathered near the heavily guarded presidential palace and pledged they would be ready if he returned.

“We are going to show up at the Honduras International Airport in Tegucigalpa … and on Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa,” Zelaya said in a taped statement posted on the Web sites of the Telesur and Cubadebate media outlets.

In comments to a local radio station, Zelaya said Argentina President Cristina Fernandez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, several foreign ministers and 300 journalists would accompany him.

Zelaya’s vow to return set up a showdown between supporters of the ousted president, who hail mostly from the country’s poor and middle class, and largely well-to-do backers of the coup that ousted him, who have held their own daily marches in support of Roberto Micheletti, the congressional president tapped by lawmakers to finish out the six months left in Zelaya’s term.

Tegucigalpa Archbishop Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez urged Zelaya to stay away, saying Saturday in a statement read on radio and television that “your return to the country could unleash a bloodbath.”

The Micheletti government has charged Zelaya with 18 criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006, and vows to arrest him if he returns.


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