Ousted Honduran Leader Left Isolated in Brazilian Embassy
September 23, 2009 - 4:27 AMDiplomats and activists streamed out of the increasingly isolated Brazilian Embassy in Honduras where ousted President Manuel Zelaya holed up with a shrinking core of supporters and relatives, prompting Brazil to urge the U.N. Security Council to guarantee the compound's safety.
Zelaya's backers ventured out at several points in Honduras' capital to skirmish with police, after hundreds of their colleagues were routed by baton-wielding soldiers from the street in front of the embassy and police roadblocks sealed off the mission building Tuesday. Authorities denied local media reports that three people died in the confrontation.
The entire country was largely shut down, with almost no cars or pedestrians in the streets and few businesses open under a nearly round-the-clock curfew decreed by the interim government that ousted Zelaya in June. It accused Zelaya of sneaking back into the country Monday to create disturbances and disrupt the Nov. 29 election scheduled to pick his successor.
Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the government would not try to enter the embassy to arrest Zelaya, but he also said Honduras' interim leaders had no intention of yielding on the central point demanded by the international community: the reinstatement of Zelaya to serve out the remaining four months of his term.
The government briefly set up loudspeakers near the embassy and shut off water and power to the building, apparently to harass Zelaya's supporters inside. At least 85 Zelaya supporters and part of the embassy's staff later left the building; none were detained. Services were later restored to the building.
"We know we are in danger," Zelaya said during interviews with various media outlets. "We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice."
Soldiers stood guard on neighboring rooftops and helicopters buzzed overhead. About 174 people detained in the clash outside the embassy were later released. A doctor interviewed by Radio Globo said 18 people were treated at the public hospital for injuries.
At the United Nations, Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Viotti cited the tense situation around the compound in asking the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on Honduras. She voiced concerns about the safety of the embassy and of Zelaya.
Zelaya, forced out of his country at gunpoint June 28, triumphantly popped up in the capital Monday, telling captivated supporters that after three months of international exile and a secretive 15-hour cross-country journey, he was ready to lead again.
He said Tuesday that he had no plans to leave the embassy and he repeatedly asked to speak with interim President Roberto Micheletti.
Later in the day, Lopez, the foreign minister, quoted Micheletti as saying that "I will talk to anybody, anywhere, any time, including ex-president Manuel Zelaya." But Lopez said the offer did not include allowing Zelaya to serve out his presidential term or avoid arrest on a Supreme Court warrant charging the ex-leader with treason and abuse of authority.
A U.N. truck showed up at the embassy with hot dogs to feed Zelaya's supporters and Brazilian staffers -- the only food that U.N. workers could find in a city where nearly every business was closed.
A Zelaya loyalist, Loliveth Andino, stood alone outside an army barricade near the embassy and expressed hope that Zelaya could return to the presidency.
"He was the one who made sure our rights were respected and our voices were heard," Andino said.
Diplomats around the world, from the European Union to the U.S. State Department, urged calm while repeating their recognition of Zelaya as Honduras' legitimate president.
Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States who is trying to persuade Micheletti to step down and restore Zelaya to his office, said he was "very concerned" that the situation could turn violent.
The government said in a broadcast statement that security forces "have orders to detain those people getting together in neighborhoods with the purpose of causing uneasiness to the rest of the population." Raids targeted attempts by Zelaya backers to set up barricades of rocks or burning tires, mostly in poorer neighborhoods.
A 26-hour curfew imposed Monday afternoon shuttered businesses and schools, leaving the capital's streets mostly deserted. All the nation's international airports and border posts were closed and checkpoints were set up on highways to keep Zelaya supporters from massing for protests.
The government announced Tuesday evening the curfew was being extended 12 more hours, until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Zelaya was removed after he repeatedly ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum calling for a popular assembly to reform the constitution. His opponents accused him of wanting to end the constitutional ban on re-election -- a charge Zelaya has repeatedly denied.
The Supreme Court ordered his arrest, and the Honduran Congress, alarmed by his increasingly close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, backed the army as it forced him into exile in Costa Rica.
Since his ouster, Zelaya has traveled around the region to lobby for support from political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
U.S.-backed talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled over the interim government's refusal to accept Zelaya's reinstatement to the presidency. Arias' proposal would limit Zelaya's powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution.
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