Tension mounts in Honduras

July 7, 2009 12:00 am

, TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 7 – Ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya was set to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as the country’s political crisis talks moved to Washington.

The Clinton meeting would be the highest-level contact between Zelaya and US President Barack Obama’s administration since the June 28 coup, when the military packed off the leftist leader in his pajamas.

The interim leaders who deposed Zelaya meanwhile sent a commission to Washington to try to convince politicians that there had been a "constitutional succession" not a "coup" in Honduras, they said in a statement.

In increasingly polarized Honduras, several thousand protesters took to the streets Monday, a day after two Zelaya supporters were killed during a mass demonstration at the airport, when the army prevented a plane carrying the deposed leader from landing.

"Assassins!" they shouted at a crowd of soldiers behind riot shields as they marched several hundred meters (yards) past the presidential palace.

A fake corpse covered in fake blood lay under a Honduran flag to represent the first deaths since the troubles began.

"We’re going to continue with peaceful resistance despite the repression," union leader Juan Barahona told AFP.

The United States and the United Nations on Monday led condemnation of the first deaths since protests began a week ago in Honduras.

"We deplore the use of force against demonstrators in Tegucigalpa in recent days," said US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the Organization of American States should work to restore constitutional order, after the 34-member pan-American body suspended Honduras in a rare move at an emergency session over the weekend.

Roberto Micheletti’s interim government says that Zelaya’s return is not negotiable and insists that his ouster was legal.

Micheletti said in Honduras late Monday that he hoped Clinton would help "advance" dialogue to resolve the crisis.

"We support the attempt by Secretary Clinton to advance dialogue in this situation," Micheletti said on national television.

The Honduran crisis is the biggest challenge yet for Obama’s Latin America policy, in a region where the United States holds great influence.

Zelaya said in Nicaragua that he would leave late Monday for Washington, where he planned to talk to Clinton about his eventual return to Honduras.

"I will return to Honduras, there’s no doubt about that," Zelaya said.

Before leaving, Zelaya said he was naming a new Honduran ambassador to the United States, Enrique Reina, to replace Hugo Llorens, who had submitted to the interim government.

International pressure has mounted on the Central American nation on the heels of aid freezes, ambassador withdrawals and temporary trade embargoes.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s key backer, said he has suspended crucial shipments of oil.

The Pentagon has suspended all military activities with Tegucigalpa until further notice.

The coup leaders say they are prepared for an economic blockade of at least six months, in order to hold out until scheduled elections in November, but analysts warn that they would struggle to resist economic sanctions.

It was unclear exactly how many people had been injured and detained in the 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.

The army sent Zelaya away at the height of a dispute with the courts, politicians and the army over his plans to change the constitution that opponents said included an attempt to stand for a second term.


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