Sunday, July 05, 2009

Honduras 'to stop Zelaya plane'!

A soldier at the international airport in Honduras on 5 July 2009
There are fears of clashes between Zelaya supporters and troops

The interim government in Honduras says it will block any attempt by ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return.

Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez said that any plane carrying Mr Zelaya would not be allowed to land.

But Mr Zelaya, removed by troops a week ago, says he still intends to return to the Central American nation later today to reclaim his post.

The stand-off comes a day after the top regional body, the OAS, suspended Honduras over the crisis.

Supporters of the ousted leader were said to be gathering in the capital, Tegucigalpa, in order to meet him at the airport.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs, in the capital, says there are growing fears of violence. The capital's archbishop has warned of a possible "bloodbath".

"I imagine there'll be blood and I'm ready for it. We're not afraid," Zelaya supporter Marisol Velasquez told AFP.

A heavy troop presence was reported at and around the airport, but the city was said to be calm.

Soldiers arrive at the capital's main airport'

The military - backed by Congress and the courts - forced Mr Zelaya out of Honduras on 28 June over his plans to hold a vote on possible constitutional change.

But his removal has been widely criticised by the international community.

CRISIS TIMELINE
President Zelaya planned non-binding public consultation on constitutional change
Critics say he wanted to stay in power
28 June: Troops seize and expel Zelaya; parliamentary speaker becomes interim leader
29 June: US President Obama condemns the overthrow as illegal
4 July: Organization of American States suspends Honduras in protest at overthrow

Mr Zelaya announced earlier in the week that he would return to Honduras on Sunday.

But Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez said Manuel Zelaya would not be allowed back in, "come what may".

"The landing of the plane which will bring the ex-president is banned," he said early on Sunday, suggesting the decision was made in part for Mr Zelaya's own safety.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Zelaya said he was determined to return.

He is to be accompanied by UN General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, but not by a group of regional presidents, as he had suggested.

Late on Saturday, the OAS suspended Honduras - the first time the organisation had taken such a measure since Cuba was suspended in 1962, when it allied itself with the USSR.

But the new government in Honduras appears to be standing firm.

Map

"The OAS is a political organisation, not a court, and it can't judge us," interim President Roberto Micheletti said prior to the suspension.

On Saturday supporters of the interim government rallied in the capital waving flags and shouting anti-Zelaya slogans.

Demonstrations so far have been mostly peaceful but correspondents say the country is becoming increasingly polarised.

Tegucigalpa Archbishop Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez has urged Mr Zelaya to stay away to prevent violence.

"We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a bloodbath," he said in a statement broadcast on radio and television.

Mr Zelaya, a wealthy businessman, is a left-wing politician and supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

His opponents, which includes the Supreme Court and a majority in parliament, accuse him of seeking to prolong his rule.

He had wanted to hold a popular vote on convening a constitutional convention - a move that could have removed the current one-term limit for presidents.


BBC NEWS REPORT.

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