Ousted Honduran President Vows To Stay In Charge

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The first military takeover of a Central American government in 16 years is drawing widespread condemnation from governments around the world. The democratically-elected president of Honduras was ousted Sunday and a successor has been named. But President Manuel Zelaya is vowing to stay in power.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There was a time when a military coup in Latin America was common enough, it might have been greeted with a yawn. But with the era of army takeovers now thought to be long gone, the reaction was dramatically different when Honduras military seized the president early yesterday morning and flew him into exile in Costa Rica. Governments throughout the region and the U.S. quickly denounced the coup and are demanding that the president be reinstated. NPR's Jason Beaubien has more.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had been sparring with the military for weeks. The final straw was a referendum that Zelaya was pushing on whether or not to allow presidents to run for a second term in office. The referendum had been declared illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court.

Zelaya vowed to hold the balloting anyway as a nonbinding poll. That vote was supposed to take place yesterday. But instead, around 5:00 A.M., Honduran soldiers burst into the presidential palace, arrested President Zelaya, and took him, still in his pajamas, to the airport.

At a press conference in Costa Rica, in what looked like a borrowed grey T-shirt, Zelaya said that the soldiers brutally forced him onto the plane. And he said the coup was a blow to democracy not just in Honduras, but in all of Latin America.

President MANUEL ZELAYA (Honduras): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: I want to return to my country. I am the president of the Honduran people, Zelaya said, and I hope for assistance from all the democracies in this hemisphere to reinstate the legitimate government in Honduras. Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Tegucigalpa to support the ousted president. Honduran troops also were in the streets of the capital and took over most government buildings.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

BEAUBIEN: Late in the afternoon, members of the national assembly chanted Honduras, Honduras. Roberto Micheletti, the chairman of the Congress, was sworn in as the new president. Micheletti gave a fiery speech in which he stated he didn't get to this position by way of a coup.

President ROBERTO MICHELETTI (Honduras): (Spanish Spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

BEAUBIEN: Let's not let foreigners nor locals call it a coup, Micheletti said, because this has been done by the constitution of the republic and its laws.

And in the same strident tone, without a hint of irony, Micheletti declared long live democracy.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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