, TEGUCIGALPA, Jun 29 – Parliamentary speaker Roberto Micheletti, sworn in as new Honduran president, imposed a nationwide 48-hour curfew after the army ousted elected President Manuel Zelaya and sent him into exile.
Congress voted Micheletti in as the country’s new leader just hours after Zelaya had arrived in Costa Rica insisting he was still president of the Central American nation.
Later, Zelaya traveled to Managua to take part in the summit of the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. He told reporters he was determined to return to Honduras and "reclaim his post."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, also in the Nicaraguan capital, vowed to do "everything that is necessary in political, diplomatic, social and moral aspects to restore the government of Manuel Zelaya."
In Honduras however, Micheletti brushed off worldwide condemnation of the takeover.
He "had came to the presidency not by a coup d’etat but by a completely legal process as set out in our laws," he said. The curfew, which began Sunday would end on Tuesday, he added.
In the Honduran capital shots were heard near the presidential palace late Sunday, but their cause was not immediately clear.
And a politically powerful union of teachers announced an indefinite strike to protest Zelaya’s ouster.
As planes and helicopters overflew the capital, several hundred Zelaya supporters ignored warnings to stay home and took to the streets of Tegucigalpa shouting out, "We want Mel," the president’s nickname.
But the demonstration was halted in front of the presidential palace when the way was barred by a cordon of troops and armored vehicles.
His overthrow was triggered by a tense political standoff between Zelaya and the country’s military and legal institutions over his bid to secure a second term.
Congress said it had voted unanimously to remove the president from office for his "apparent misconduct" and for "repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions."
Micheletti was appointed to serve out the rest of the term, which ends in January. New general elections are planned for November 29.
Zelaya, elected to a non-renewable four-year term in 2005, had planned a vote Sunday asking Hondurans to sanction a future referendum to allow him to run for re-election in the November polls.
The planned referendum had been ruled illegal by the country’s top court and was opposed by the military, but the president said he planned to press ahead with it anyway and ballot boxes had already been distributed.
The Supreme Court said Sunday that it had ordered the president’s ouster in order to protect law and order in the nation of some seven million people.
At dawn on Sunday, some 200 troops swooped on Zelaya’s home. He was bundled away in his pyjamas and flown out of the country.
A leading government official, Armando Sarmiento, told AFP that at least eight cabinet members had also been detained including Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas.
US President Barack Obama said he was deeply concerned about the events in Honduras, as US officials said they recognized Zelaya as the country’s legitimate president.
"We recognize Zelaya as the duly elected and constitutional president of Honduras. We see no other," a top US State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
But in a veiled warning to Chavez and his allies, a senior US State Department official said that "a process" in Honduras should not be "interfered with bilaterally by any country in the Americas.
Washington was working with other members of the Organization of American States (OAS) on a consensus resolution to condemn the effort to depose the president and call for full restoration of democratic order, he said.
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.
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, has shifted dramatically to the left during his presidency.