TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Baton-wielding soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands who demonstrated outside the Brazilian Embassy on Tuesday, leaving deposed President Manuel Zelaya and 70 friends and relatives trapped inside without water, electricity or phones.
“We know we are in danger,” Zelaya said during interviews with various media outlets. “We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice.”
Heavily armed soldiers stood guard on neighboring rooftops and helicopters buzzed overhead.
Zelaya, forced out of his country at gunpoint on June 28, triumphantly popped up in the capital Monday, telling captivated supporters that after three months of international exile and a secretive 15-hour cross-country journey, he was ready to lead again.
Interim President Roberto Micheletti’s response was terse: Initially he said Zelaya was lying about being back. Then after Zelaya appeared on national television, Micheletti pressed Brazil to hand him over under a warrant issued by the Supreme Court charging treason and abuse of authority.
Some officials suggested even Brazil’s embassy would be no haven for the ousted leader.
“The inviolability of a diplomatic mission does not imply the protection of delinquents or fugitives from justice,” said Micheletti’s foreign ministry adviser, Mario Fortinthe.
Police and soldiers set up a ring of security in a three-mile perimeter around the embassy and could be seen detaining people in some areas. The government said in a broadcast statement that security forces “have orders to detain those people getting together in neighborhoods with the purpose of causing uneasiness to the rest of the population.”
The statement denied local media reports that three people were killed outside the embassy.
Security Ministry spokesman Orlin Cerrato said two policemen were beaten and 174 people were being held on charges of disorderly conduct and vandalism. A doctor interviewed by Radio Globo said 18 people had been treated at the public hospital for injuries.
A 26-hour curfew imposed Monday afternoon closed businesses and schools, leaving the capital’s streets nearly deserted. All the nation’s international airports and border posts were closed and roadblocks set up to keep Zelaya supporters from massing for protests.
Tuesday evening the government announced the curfew was being extended 12 more hours, until 6 a.m. today.
Micheletti, who has promised to step down after a November presidential election that was scheduled before Zelaya’s ouster, repeated his insistence that there had never been a coup – just a “constitutional succession” ordered by the courts and approved by Congress.
“Coups do not allow freedom of assembly,” he wrote in a column published Tuesday in the Washington Post. “They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant.”