President Zelaya in Costa Rica after being detained by troops

President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras has arrived in Costa Rica after being detained by army troops ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum on whether to allow him to run for re-election.


AFP - Honduran troops arrested President Manuel Zelaya in an apparent military coup Sunday to stop him pressing ahead with a constitutional referendum, in a move triggering global concern.

"Troops have taken the president from his home to the air force (base)," the president's personal secretary, Enrique Reina, told reporters.

"We're in the process of filing an international complaint," he said, as Zelaya was flown out of the Central American nation to Costa Rica.

Arriving just hours later, Zelaya said on Costa Rican television that he was a "victim of kidnapping" and a "coup d'etat," part of a plot by members of the military to remove him from power.

A neighbor told Radiocadena Voces television about 200 troops swooped on Zelaya's home just as dawn was breaking around 6:00 am and his house remained surrounded by heavily armed troops, an AFP photographer saw.

Elected in 2006 for a non-renewable four-year term, Zelaya had planned a vote Sunday asking Hondurans to sanction a future referendum to allow him to run for reelection after his term ends in January.

Zelaya's planned referendum had been ruled illegal by the country's top court and had been opposed by the military, but the president said he planned to press ahead with it anyway and ballot boxes had already been distributed.

US President Barack Obama said he was deeply concerned about the unfolding events in the Honduras as the European Union also called for Zelaya's release.

"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama said in a statement.

"Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

And Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said: "The EU calls for the urgent release of the president and a swift return to constitutional normality."

The apparent coup is the latest dramatic event in a tense political standoff over the past several days.

Last week Zelaya sacked the country's top military chief, General Romeo Vasquez and also accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Edmundo Orellana, after military commanders refused to distribute ballot boxes for Sunday's vote.

The heads of the army, marines and air force also resigned.

In a tense rebuttal of the president's moves, the Honduran Supreme Court then unanimously voted Thursday to reinstate Vasquez and hundreds of troops massed late last week in the capital Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya, who was elected as a conservative, shifted dramatically to the left during his presidency.

He is the latest in a long list of Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to seek constitutional changes to expand presidential powers and also ease term limits.

Chavez also denounced Sunday's arrest as a "coup d'etat" and alleged that the United States had a hand in his overthrow.

Representatives of American nations held emergency talks Sunday about the situation and condemned the president's ouster.

Last week, the US State Department said it was concerned by the breakdown in political dialogue and UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged "restraint by all concerned."

The Honduran Congress approved late Thursday plans to investigate Zelaya and possibly declare him unfit to govern.

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