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Latin American leaders to accompany ousted president home

Video by Audrey RACINE , Rachel MARUSAK


Latest update : 2009-06-30

Latin American leaders, including Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner, plan to accompany Honduran President Manuel Zelaya back home on Thursday, after a military coup saw him exiled to Costa Rica. Zelaya is set to address the UN on Tuesday.

REUTERS - Argentina's president and the head of the Organization of American States plan to accompany ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as he tries to return to his country this week, an Argentine Foreign Ministry source said, in a growing show of support in the hemisphere to restore him to power.

Zelaya was bundled out of office and into exile in Costa Rica in a military coup on Sunday. There has been a tide of international condemnation for the ouster, from U.S. President Barack Obama to the Honduran leader's leftist allies in Latin America, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

In Honduras, pro-Zelaya protesters have clashed in the streets with security forces.

Zelaya said on Monday evening he planned to return to Honduras on Thursday, accompanied by OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza. The news that Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez also planned to travel with him added to the pressure on the interim leaders of Honduras to back down.

Other Latin American leaders might travel with Zelaya, Fernandez and Insulza, the Argentine source said.

Further piling on the pressure, the World Bank has "paused" all program lending to Honduras following the coup, the bank's president, Robert Zoellick, said on Tuesday.

"We're working closely with the OAS (Organization of American States) and looking to the OAS to deal with its handling of the crisis under its democratic charter," Zoellick told reporters in Washington. "In the process we have put a pause with our lending.

Sunday's coup in Honduras, an impoverished coffee-producing country of 7 million people that had been politically stable since the end of military rule in the early 1980s, was the first military putsch in Central America since the Cold War.

Zelaya, a close ally of Chavez, had riled the armed forces, courts and Congress with his quest to change the constitution to let presidents seek re-election beyond a single four-year term.

But the coup has been swiftly condemned, including by Obama's administration. The U.S. president said on Monday Zelaya was the legitimate Honduran president and he was working with the OAS and other regional bodies to resolve the situation.


U.N. visit

In a signal of the international support behind him, Zelaya planned to speak at the United Nations on Tuesday.

Zelaya, speaking of his planned trip back to Honduras, defied the interim government to repress protests, or kill him.

"If they send troops to repress demonstrations or to kill me, then let them try before the eyes of the world," Zelaya said at a meeting of Latin American leaders in Nicaragua. He said he had accepted an offer by Insulza to accompany him, but gave no details of how he expected to carry out his return.

Honduras' Congress named Roberto Micheletti, a conservative veteran of Zelaya's Liberal Party as caretaker president soon after Zelaya was pushed out on Sunday.

The interim government's foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, appeared to leave the door open for Zelaya to come back this week although only if he recognizes he is no longer president.

"He can come in, but only if he leaves his presidency behind him," Ortez told local media. "We are not going to allow him to come here to create unnecessary problems."

The capital, Tegucigalpa, was calm on Tuesday morning after a second night under curfew. Hundreds of Zelaya supporters had clashed with riot police on Monday to demand his return in one of the world's major coffee producers.

Coffee output and exports appeared untouched by the turmoil as ports and roads remained open.

Micheletti, who set himself up in the presidential palace despite the protests outside, told Reuters most Hondurans supported the ouster, which he said had saved the country from swinging to a radical Chavez-style socialism.

Zelaya, a cowboy hat-wearing logging magnate, upset conservative elites with his growing alliance with Chavez.

Diplomatic protests

Micheletti has the backing of the powerful business and political elites that have run Honduras for most of its history since independence from Spain in the 19th century.

His government expects to stay on until elections due in late November, but he will come under pressure to negotiate a swift end to the crisis.

Zelaya has low support -- polls showed around 30 percent before his ouster -- as many Hondurans were uncomfortable with his tilt to the left in a country with a long conservative, pro-Washington position.

"Some sort of negotiation will have to occur," said Shannon O'Neil at the Center on Foreign Relations. "For the international community, the most acceptable solution is that Zelaya comes back and completes the last several months of his term as president, and then steps down."

Left-wing Latin American presidents led by Venezuela's Chavez said in Managua, capital of neighboring Nicaragua, that they would withdraw their ambassadors from Honduras in protest at the coup. Central American nations plan to do the same and announced a two-day halt in trade.

The Honduras crisis is a test for the White House in a region where Obama has promised a new era of relations after often testy years under the Bush administration.


Date created : 2009-06-30