Zelaya departs for exile as Lobo prepares to be sworn in
Deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya (pictured) left to begin exile on Wednesday as president-elect Porfirio Lobo prepared to take office, bringing an end to the political crisis that has reigned since Zelaya's June ouster.
AFP - Deposed Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya left for exile Wednesday amid hopes that the swearing-in of new President Porfirio Lobo would end months of turmoil following last year's coup.
Zelaya flew out of the capital Tegucigalpa on board the official jet of Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, who has agreed to take him under a deal to permit reconciliation in a Honduras divided by the recent political upheaval.
"We'll be back, we'll be back," Zelaya told reporters moments before boarding the plane at the airport where some 10,000 of his followers had gathered to see him off.
Zelaya was escorted out of the Brazilian embassy, where he had taken refuge last September after sneaking back into Honduras, by Fernandez and Lobo, under a guarantee that threats of arrest would not be carried out.
Thousands of Zelaya's supporters rallied under a hot sun and police supervision at the airport to farewell their ex-leader.
"See you later Papa Mel. God bless you," read one placard using an affectionate nickname for Zelaya.
"We want the people to take power and for our president to come back very soon," said a 25-year-old demonstrator, student Sara Avila.
Zelaya's four-year term was to have ended Wednesday, the day Lobo was sworn in during a ceremony attended by few international dignitaries.
Lobo's first act upon taking office was to sign a decree giving amnesty to the soldiers, politicians and judges who brought about the June 28 coup.
He said the measure -- first proposed months ago in failed mediation talks in Costa Rica backed by Washington -- was needed as part of a process of national healing.
The US assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, was among the guests at the swearing-in ceremony -- a sign of Washington's support for Lobo.
Others included presidents Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, Ricardo Martinelli of Panama and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan, and Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos.
Roberto Micheletti, the interim leader following Zelaya's ouster who organized the November elections that brought Lobo to power, did not attend the ceremony but went to Mass instead.
Lobo faces several challenges to repair the damage from Zelaya's overthrow.
The most immediate ones are filling state coffers starved of trade revenues and foreign credits, and engineering Honduras's return into the family of Latin American nations scandalized by the June coup.
Fresh support from the United States and European countries is seen as key to breaking the diplomatic isolation imposed on Honduras as punishment for its undemocratic turn.
France, for instance, was "ready to support the new Honduran authorities" as Lobo embarked on a period of national reconciliation, a foreign ministry spokesman said in Paris.
But several nations -- Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela among them -- still refuse to recognize Lobo as president, saying it would imply approval of Zelaya's ouster and of coups generally.
"For Brazil, the situation has not changed. For now, Brazil does not recognize Lobo's government," an official in Brazil's foreign ministry told AFP.
Venezuela's representative at the Organization of American States, Roy Chaderton, said "the coup plotter's loop has been successfully closed by getting president Manuel Zelaya out of the country."
Honduran lawmakers and top judges said they conspired to topple Zelaya because he had threatened the constitution by trying to stay in power beyond his single permitted term.
They claimed the former president -- who suddenly reversed ideologies halfway through his term to be a leftwing champion of the poor -- was egged on by his chief foreign ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.