Hondurans Stage Dueling Presidential Protests

Supporters of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya protest in the capital city of Tegucigalpa on Wednesday. Eduardo Verdugo/AP hide caption

View a photo gallery of this week's events in Tegucigalpa.
itoggle caption Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Thousands of protesters took to the streets Thursday in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa to hold dueling demonstrations in support of the two men laying claim to the nation's presidency.

Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in a June coup, has been sheltered in the Brazilian Embassy since Monday when he sneaked back into the country with hopes of regaining his post as Honduras' legally elected president.

Meanwhile, de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in immediately after Zelaya was ousted, remained in the presidential office.

On Thursday, protesters clad in white chanted "Out with Zelaya" and "Viva Micheletti" in front of the United Nations office in the Honduran capital. Some held signs saying, "Micheletti is my president." Others waved banners accusing Zelaya of being a puppet of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Congressman Antonio Rivera of the National Party — like most of these Micheletti backers — maintained that the ouster of Zelaya was not a coup.

"I'm supporting the democracy," Rivera said. "We don't want dictatorship here. We don't want Chavez. We don't want Zelaya back in our country."

On June 28, armed Honduran soldiers burst in to Zelaya's bedroom, forced him onto a plane and flew him to a Costa Rica airport — still wearing his pajamas. Rivera said Zelaya was removed for violating a direct order from the Honduran Supreme Court. But he admitted it was a mistake for the military to throw Zelaya out of the country rather than arrest him.

"That was a big mistake. We are paying for that mistake because they qualify taking Zelaya to Costa Rica as a military coup, and it's not a military coup," Rivera said. "The characteristic of a military coup is you dissolve the three branches [of government], and the military stays in power as long as it wants."

Rivera said that when Zelaya was removed from office, the other branches of government remained intact, and Micheletti was elevated to the presidency because he was next in line for the office.

But as Rivera and thousands of others called Zelaya to leave, a group of Zelaya's supporters demanded that Micheletti be ousted.

Earlier in the day, Zelaya's followers took over the streets in front of the national university, forcing the cancellation of classes that had just reopened after being closed for two days. Masked protesters burned tires and built barricades on the roadway, while riot police in gas masks lurked just down the hill.

Protester Cristina Rivera said the ouster of Zelaya was a military coup, and she maintained that Zelaya is still the country's president.

"Zelaya was elected as our president. Micheletti is the imposed president, forced on us by the rich and the powerful," she said.

The political crisis in Honduras shut down much of the country for several days this week, and the public schools remained closed Thursday. Airports have reopened, but international flights have not resumed.

At the El Amatillo border crossing between El Salvador and Honduras, hundreds of tractor-trailers were backed up for miles waiting to cross. Some had been waiting for several days.

Manuel Maroquin, a driver from Guatemala, was hauling a truck loaded with soft drinks when traffic ground to a halt.

"It's a waste," said Maroquin. "We are trying to work, and we are losing money. It's a waste for everyone."

The effects of this crisis, which has dragged on for three months, are being felt throughout the region.

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