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Ousted president defies warnings, heads for home country

3 min

Honduras President Manuel Zelaya was due to arrive back in his country on Sunday, one week after he was ousted in a coup. The interim government has warned his plane will not be permitted to land.


AFP - Shouting "down with the traitorous coup leaders" and "we love Mel" -- the nickname of ousted President Manuel Zelaya -- thousands of angry Hondurans headed for the capital's airport on Sunday.

"We're coming from Choluteca (southern Honduras) because we want to accompany Mel on his return and guarantee that nothing happens, because he is the constitutional president of Hondurans," said Roberto Rios, a supporter.

Some covered their faces with bandanas, carrying metal poles and planks of wood as they marched through the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa.

Coup leaders vowed on Sunday to prevent Zelaya's plane from landing, hoping to thwart his attempt to reclaim the presidency one week after he was ousted.

Amid growing tension in anticipation of Zelaya's arrival, soldiers surrounded the airport, where airlines had suspended flights and thousands of his supporters planned to gather.

Rios, a worker in a shrimp packing factory, arrived from the countryside with many union members, women's, farm workers and indigenous groups, after traveling for several days.

One union leader, Marisol Velasquez, said she had been roughed up by soldiers at road blocks on her three-day journey to reach the capital.

But that didn't deter her from demonstrating ahead of Zelaya's expected arrival.

"I imagine there'll be blood and I'm ready for it. We're not afraid," Velasquez said.

"If soldiers crackdown, there'll be lots of violence in Honduras."

So far, some clashes have broken out between the army and protesters.   It was unclear exactly how many people had been injured and detained.

Many camped down in universities, labor union buildings and schools for several nights to await Zelaya.

Union leader Rafael Alegria estimated that up to 100,000 Zelaya supporters would take to the streets to welcome him, despite measures to block them by the interim government of Roberto Micheletti.

Zelaya has vowed to return from Washington, where the Organization of American States voted to suspend the Central American country late Saturday for failing to reinstate him.

Micheletti's supporters say the army was justified in ousting Zelaya because he had called a referendum to change the constitution that they claim he planned to use to extend his rule.

"We're not going to let the country fall in the hands of those people," said Oscar Garcia, a 57-year-old farm worker.

Amid confusion over whether Zelaya would make it back, one union leader said that scores of taxis had headed to a US military base around one hour away from the capital.

Protest leaders said that they were making every effort to prevent violence.

"We're peaceful. We're only calling for the law to be followed," said Julio Barahona, a union leader who denied accusations from the interim government that Zelaya's leftists allies Nicaragua and Venezuela were backing them.

"They say that to justify the repression," Barahona said.


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