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Ousted leader camps at border

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya talks to supporters Saturday in Las Manos, Nicaragua, near the Honduran border.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya talks to supporters Saturday in Las Manos, Nicaragua, near the Honduran border. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Exiled Honduran president joined by supporters

LAS MANOS, Nicaragua – Deposed President Manuel Zelaya returned to the Honduran border Saturday and announced he would set up camp there, despite foreign leaders urging him not to force a confrontation with the government that ousted him in last month’s coup.

Zelaya arrived at a rural frontier crossing and immediately grabbed a megaphone, shouting to a crowd of 150 supporters and about as many journalists. He vowed to wait near the border and demanded his family be allowed to meet him.

“We are going to stand firm,” Zelaya told the crowd, complaining that the interim government has not allowed him to reunite with his family, whom he hasn’t seen since he was whisked at gunpoint from his home June 28 and forced into exile.

“Today we are going to set up camps here, with water and food. We are going to stay here this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow morning,” he said.

Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, told CNN by telephone that she was stopped at a roadblock on a highway leading to the border and that police and soldiers would not let her and others pass.

Zelaya says he is going to commute back and forth between the border crossing and the Nicaraguan town of El Ocotal, about 25 miles down the road, and probably won’t try another border crossing like the brief, symbolic trip a few yards into Honduran territory he performed Friday. He said he fears soldiers would attack his supporters if he did.

About 50 soldiers manned a line about 100 yards inside Honduran territory, with a few Honduran police a bit closer to the line.

By afternoon, the tents promised by Zelaya had yet to show up, and Zelaya’s supporters sought shelter from afternoon rains under the eaves of border shops and ramshackle eateries. School buses drove the Zelaya supporters to El Ocotal to spend the night in a gymnasium before returning them to the border crossing this morning.

Hondurans were sneaking across the border into Nicaragua in small groups to join up with pro-Zelaya forces, using footpaths through forests to avoid patrols. By late Saturday, about 300 supporters had shown up.

Honduran school teacher Dania Gomez Perez, 26, arrived at the border Friday after walking all day through the mountains because Honduran police refused to allow the bus she was on to go any farther.

“We are ready to risk our lives, because the people demand” Zelaya’s return, said Gomez Perez.

On Friday, Zelaya triumphantly lifted a chain marking the frontier and took a few strides into Honduran territory, where the interim government has charged him with violating the constitution and has vowed to arrest him.

He retreated into Nicaragua less than 30 minutes later. Soldiers did not approach him Friday at the remote mountain border crossing.

Zelaya is demanding he be reinstated as president following the coup, which has been widely repudiated around the globe.

Zelaya’s brief excursion a few feet into his homeland brought the Honduran political crisis no closer to a resolution – and irritated some foreign leaders who are trying to help him reclaim office.