Ousted Honduran leader blocked

July 6, 2009 12:00 am

, TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 6 – Honduran coup leaders faced further isolation, after blocking ousted President Manuel Zelaya from flying into the capital’s airport, where soldiers killed two of his supporters, according to police.

Zelaya’s attempt to return to the polarized nation one week after he was kicked out of power came as tensions reached breaking point, with tens of thousands of his supporters massed at the heavily-militarized airport.

As soldiers fired shots and tear gas at rock-throwing protesters, two people died, according to police. The local Red Cross reported one death.

Moments later, Zelaya’s plane swooped over the runway as military vehicles blocked it from landing.

"I’m doing everything I can," Zelaya said live on Venezuela’s Telesur television. "If I had a parachute I would immediately jump out of this plane."

"From tomorrow the responsibility will fall on the powers, particularly the United States," Zelaya added.

International pressure was set to increase on the heels of aid freezes, ambassador withdrawals and temporary trade blockages.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s key backer, has said he suspended key shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

To add to the country’s isolation, the Organization of American States (OAS) voted to suspend Honduras late Saturday, in the first such move since the exclusion of Cuba in 1962.

Members of the pan-American body slammed the leaders of the coup which saw the army remove Zelaya at the height of a dispute with the courts, politicians and the army over his plans to change the constitution — which opponents said included an attempt to stand for a second term.

After the dramatic attempt to land in Tegucigalpa, Zelaya met with OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza and the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay in neighbouring El Salvador late Sunday, before heading to Nicaragua.

Insulza said at a joint news conference that he was prepared to continue working on resolving the crisis.

"I’m prepared to continue with all the diplomatic steps," Insulza said.

"We don’t aim to intervene but to comply with the norms that all the countries have adopted."

In a first sign of possible dialogue, interim leaders said they had put forward an offer for dialogue in "good faith" with the OAS, after they previously said they were pulling out of the body ahead of the suspension.

But interim president Roberto Micheletti — who took over hours after Zelaya was whisked away — also said that no one would pressure him.

Zelaya warned against further violence in the Central American nation.

"I call on the armed forces to lower their rifles against the people … I ask, beg and order them not to repress the Honduran people any more," Zelaya said in El Salvador.

It was unclear exactly how many people had been injured and detained in past week’s clashes, amid growing indignation from international rights groups.

Night time curfews — which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution — and media blackouts have heightened tension in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.

Interim officials extended a night-time curfew on Sunday, to begin at 6:30 pm, instead of 10:00 pm, to avoid gatherings on the streets.

The interim government insists that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with a referendum last Sunday after the Supreme Court ruled against it.

But they have failed to convince any foreign governments that the coup was a "constitutional succession."

Amid growing public impatience, many observers wondered how long they would still be able to try to hunker down and hold out until scheduled elections in November.


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