Author: By Stephen Foley
The military-backed government was installed in a coup exactly a week earlier. The international community nominated a senior UN official to travel with Mr Zelaya, who before boarding a flight from Washington bound for the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, urged his supporters there to mass at the airport in an act of non-violent protest.
But the Honduran regime said it had ordered the military to block any unauthorised plane from landing.
Heads of state from other American states, who had gathered in Washington in a vain attempt to negotiate a return to power for Mr Zelaya, said several of their number would travel to El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbour to the south-west.
Their presence would represent a continuing diplomatic protest against the first successful military coup in Central America since the end of the Cold War. In a session that lasted into the early hours of Sunday, the Organisation of American States expressed “deep concern about the worsening of the current political crisis” and suspended Honduras from membership. The OAS did not impose sanctions against the country, which is one of the poorest in the Americas.
Mr Zelaya’s earlier plan to travel to Tegucigalpa with the Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez was not put into action. Instead, Mr Correa said, separate planes carrying journalists and the other leaders would monitor the situation from the skies above Honduras, following Mr Zelaya down if his flight was allowed to land, and otherwise flying on to El Salvador.
Mr Correa said the deposed president would join them in San Salvador if prevented from landing in Honduras.
“There is a great mobilisation of people in Tegucigalpa and we don’t know if the interim government or the top brass of the military will dare repress those people, ” Mr Correa said.
“So we decided that the most prudent thing to do was that the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel D’Escoto, should accompany President Zelaya back to Tegucigalpa.” Several thousand Zelaya supporters, some carrying sticks, rallied in the capital to back his return, but troops and police tightened security and roadblocks around the main airport. Enrique Ortez, foreign minister in the caretaker government, said any aircraft carrying Mr Zelaya would not be allowed to land. The interim government has already said that Mr Zelaya will be arrested if he enters Honduras. “I have given orders that he not be allowed back. We cannot allow recklessness,” Mr Ortez told local radio.
On Saturday, Honduran Archbishop Oscar Andres Rodriguez warned Mr Zelaya against trying to come home.
“Returning to the country now could trigger a bloodbath,” the archbishop said in a television broadcast. “I know you love life, that you respect life.
“Until today, not one Honduran life has been lost. Consider this, because later it will be too late.”
Mr Zelaya came to power in 2006 as the leader of the centrist Liberals but subsequently aligned himself with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and tacked leftwards.
Already at odds with the country’s business elite, he began moves to change the constitution so as to allow him to run for a second term.
Congress and the courts supported his removal from the presidential palace at gunpoint on 28 June. The army sent masked soldiers into the presidential palace before dawn. The President was escorted in his pyjamas on to a military plane which took him into exile.
But Mr Zelaya’s overthrow has triggered unusual unity across the hemisphere. Honduras has seen ambassadors withdrawn and trade barriers thrown up against it.
The streets of the capital have meanwhile been the scene of minor clashes between supporters of the coup and Zelaya loyalists. Rafael Alegria, a prominent pro-Zelaya protest organiser, said: “We have no pistols or arms, just our principles. We have the legitimate right to fight for the defence of democracy and to restore President Zelaya.”
The coup marks the first test of US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in the region. He has suspended some military cooperation with Honduras, but so far has not moved to end all military operations in a country where the US has an air base that serves as a major staging-area for regional security programs.
The OAS voted 33-0 to suspend Honduras, which earlier on Saturday had said it would quit the organisation in any case.
“It is better to pay this high price than live undignified and bow the our heads to the demands of foreign governments,” said Roberto Micheletti, who was named caretaker president by the Honduran Congress following Zelaya’s ouster.
It was the first time a member of the OAS had been suspended since Cuba in 1962.
In an empassioned speech to the OAS, Zelaya said: “This coup is a test to the rule of law of every country in the world … There are moments when keeping silent is a crime.”
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