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Deposed Honduran President Holed Up In Embassy

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Deposed Honduran President Holed Up In Embassy

Latin America

Deposed Honduran President Holed Up In Embassy

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Last night, the de facto government in Honduras extended a nationwide curfew that has essentially shut down much of the Central American country. The curfew went into effect after deposed President Manuel Zelaya slipped back into Honduras on Monday. Zelaya is at the Brazilian embassy in the capital and says he's come back to reclaim his position as president. His return ignited street battles and a diplomatic showdown. NPR's Jason Beaubien is following the story from Mexico City.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Thousands of supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya gathered yesterday outside the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya was holed up. Riot police and soldiers fired tear gas and used water canons to drive them away.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

President MANUEL ZELAYA (Deposed President, Honduras): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Zelaya spent most of the day conducting interviews on his cell phone with news outlets throughout the region, including this one with the Spanish language arm of CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Pres. ZELAYA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: They've cut off the electricity and drinking water to this entire zone around the Brazilian embassy, Zelaya said. He called on people, including priests, to defy the curfew and come to the embassy to support him.

Zelaya was deposed in a coup in June. Soldiers burst into his bedroom and forced him at gunpoint onto a plane and then left him on the tarmac in Costa Rica in his pajamas.

Later that day, the Honduran Congress named Roberto Micheletti as president. Micheletti is now demanding that Brazil hand Zelaya over to face criminal charges. His administration has said for months that Zelaya would be arrested if he set foot on Honduran soil. Honduran soldiers have now surrounded Brazil's embassy.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the de facto administration that Brazil won't tolerate a breach of its embassy, but he also warned Zelaya not to provoke Honduran security forces into invading the building. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the White House is equally concerned about the standoff.

Mr. IAN KELLY (Spokesman, State Department): We understand the situation is very tense, especially in the area immediately around the Brazilian embassy. The U.S. embassy is closed because of the situation. In addition to calling for dialog, we also very much urge all sides to refrain from actions, particularly violent actions.

BEAUBIEN: Even though Micheletti has promised to step down after November elections, governments in Latin America - ranging from the far left to the far right - are supporting Zelaya and say he is the legitimate president. Just about everything in Honduras, including the United Nations offices, were shut down yesterday.

Ms. REBECCA ARIAS (United Nations): Nobody can go out. Nobody can leave. And, of course, the country is heavily militarized.

BEAUBIEN: Rebecca Arias is the U.N.'s top official in Honduras. Speaking by phone from Tegucigalpa, she said the streets of the capital were almost deserted. Arias said she was getting reports from her staff and other humanitarian agencies of almost 200 people being detained in a baseball stadium and numerous others who'd been injured.

She also said most of the local TV and radio stations were either off the air or not covering the situation outside the Brazilian embassy. In terms of the curfew, Arias says she expects it will go on for several more days.

Ms. ARIAS: Because they want to avoid the people from different parts of the country come to support Zelaya. And this is the main purpose of this curfew, is to avoid that people demonstrate or show support and come from different parts of the country. So I think it will continue.

BEAUBIEN: Brazil is now calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the crisis in Honduras and try to find a peaceful solution.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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