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The ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, says he'll return there on Thursday, accompanied by the leaders of Argentina, Ecuador and the Organization of American States. The new administration in Honduras, which took over after a military coup, says Zelaya will be arrested if he returns.
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Manuel Zelaya spoke before the General Assembly of the United Nations today as the president of Honduras. At the same time, demonstrators in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, took to the streets to support Roberto Micheletti, who they say is the new legitimate president of Honduras. Hundreds of protesters - many holding blue and white Honduran flags - waved signs saying Zelaya, don't come back, and Micheletti is our president.
The protests contrasted sharply to ones the night before by supporters of Zelaya, which disintegrated into street battles as security forces fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the crowds. Speaking at the U.N. this afternoon in New York, Zelaya described Honduran soldiers shooting the hinges off the door of his bedroom Sunday morning and then bursting into the room.
President MANUEL ZELAYA (Honduras): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: And with rifles and bayonets pointing at my head and chest, Zelaya said, they told me: Drop that cell phone, or we will shoot. This is a military order. Drop that cell phone. Drop it or we will shoot you.
The soldiers took President Zelaya, still in his night clothes, to the airport, bundled him onto a plane and, in his words, dumped him on the tarmac in San Jose, Costa Rica. The U.N. General Assembly ahead of Zelaya's speech passed a resolution condemning the coup and calling for Zelaya to be returned immediately and unconditionally to power.
Zelaya told the U.N. that if his ouster is allowed to stand, Honduras will be reverting to the dark days of military coups and dictatorships.
Pres. ZELAYA: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Because at the moment when there is pressure, instead of looking for a legal and a correct way, brutal force was used, Zelaya told the U.N. Assembly. We've come back to the old times, when once again we're seeing the criminality of the state.
The leftist Zelaya had made many political enemies in Honduras during his term as president. He was viewed by some as inflexible. In the week before the coup, he'd tried unsuccessfully to fire the head of the armed forces. But the final straw for his opponents was a drive by Zelaya to allow presidents to run for a second term in office. The Honduran Supreme Court ruled that a referendum he was sponsoring on the issue was illegal, but he decided to hold the balloting anyway as a test of public opinion. That vote was supposed to happen on Sunday, but instead, he was arrested and thrown out of the country.
Governments from throughout the world have condemned the coup, but leaders in Latin America have been calling the loudest for Zelaya to be reinstated in Tegucigalpa.
President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Mexican President Felipe Calderon, at a meeting of Latin American leaders yesterday in Nicaragua said, for all of us, it is absolutely unacceptable, the use of force in order to overthrow from power one government that has been legally constituted.
Ten Latin American countries have pulled their ambassadors out of Honduras in protest. And the World Bank today suspended lending to the newly installed administration. Zelaya has vowed to return to Tegucigalpa on Thursday and resume his position as the president. At a rally today in the capital, Roberto Micheletti said Zelaya will be arrested if he attempts to come back.
Mr. ROBERTO MICHELETTI (Acting President, Honduras): (Chanting in foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: Shouting democracy, democracy, democracy, Micheletti said he will serve out the rest of Zelaya's term, and a new president will be elected during regularly scheduled elections in November.
And thus, Honduras is torn between two presidents - one inside the country, one out - who both claim to be legitimate. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
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