Army blocks ousted leader’s plane from landing

The Honduran military thwarted an attempt by ousted President Manuel Zelaya to land at Tegucigalpa airport, where deadly clashes broke out between Honduran troops and Zelaya’s supporters.


REUTERS - Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya turned back from an attempted return home on Sunday after soldiers clashed with his supporters as he tried to land, fueling tensions over the coup that toppled him.

Zelaya's plane landed in neighboring Nicaragua, after he said initially his flight from Washington would divert to El Salvador.

"Faced with this situation, we have to go on with what we had planned, which is a meeting with the other presidents in the region," he told the Telesur news channel from the plane.

The coup has spiraled into Central America's worst political crisis in two decades, testing regional diplomacy and raising a challenge for the Obama administration.

A senior U.S. official described the situation in Honduras, an impoverished coffee and textile exporter, as "very fluid and challenging."

Honduras' interim government, which has resisted growing international pressure over the coup, refused Zelaya permission to enter the country and warned he would be arrested. Hundreds of troops fanned out around the runway to protect the airport.

Violence erupted after protesters broke through fencing at the edge of the airport. Troops fired tear gas and clashed with the rock-throwing crowd, Reuters witnesses said.

Zelaya, a leftist who had been due to leave power in 2010, was pushed out of office by troops and flown into exile in Costa Rica a week ago in a coup triggered by a dispute over presidential term limits.

Leftist allies of Zelaya, including the presidents of Ecuador, Paraguay and Argentina, already had flown to El Salvador on Sunday to support him.

Underscoring regional tensions stoked by the ouster, Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti said small groups of Nicaraguan troops were moving near their mutual border, although they had not crossed it.

He urged Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a leftist ally of Zelaya, to respect Honduran sovereignty.

Ortega, whose country shares a border with Honduras to the south of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, called the charge of troop movements toward the frontier "totally false."

The Organization of American States earlier on Sunday suspended Honduras for refusing to reinstate Zelaya, the strongest move yet by foreign governments to isolate the country after Central America's first coup since the Cold War.

Trying to go home

Zelaya left Washington on a Venezuelan-registered chartered plane, accompanied by U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto. But the aviation authority in Honduras said Zelaya's plane had been directed to go to El Salvador.

The interim government, installed hours after the coup last week, argues the removal of Zelaya was justified by what it views as his illegal attempts to extend presidential limits in office beyond a single four-year term.

Micheletti's government said it had contacted the OAS to express its willingness to enter dialogue. But his foreign minister Enrique Ortez said that offer would not include any return to power by Zelaya.

"That is not negotiable," Ortez said.

"We're going to have to wait and see what is that they want to talk about," the senior U.S. administration official said.

But the official said the OAS was looking for a full restoration of democracy, meaning allowing Zelaya to serve out his term.

Zelaya, a businessman who edged to the left after he came to power in 2006, upset traditional elites, including members of his own Liberal Party, by seeking changes to presidential term limits and by establishing closer ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the region's tough-talking socialist and a longtime adversary of the United States.

The OAS met in Washington and took the rare step to suspend Honduras after the interim authorities ignored an ultimatum by the 34-member body last week to reinstate Zelaya.

Honduras is the third poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti and Nicaragua. The OAS suspension could complicate access to credits from regional lender Inter-American Development Bank for Honduras. The IADB said last week it was suspending loans over the coup.

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