Honduran Police Break Up Leader's Crowds

Riot police officers shoot tear gas to supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya during clashes in front of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009. Baton-wielding police fired tear gas at thousands of demonstrators Tuesday morning, chasing them away from the Brazilian embassy where their deposed president who snuck back into the country remains holed up, avoiding threatened arrest. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) AP Photo/Esteban Felix

Baton-wielding police fired tear gas at thousands of Honduran demonstrators Tuesday morning, chasing them away from the embassy where the deposed president who sneaked back into the country remains holed up, avoiding threatened arrest.

A day after the daring return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, the interim leaders who overthrew him cleared away Hondurans who .

Security Department spokesman Orlin Cerrato said Tuesday morning that the area around the Brazilian Embassy was under control. Thousands of Zelaya supporters spent the night to support the leader who had taken shelter inside.

Officials reported no arrests and there was no immediate word of injuries.

In New York, Brazil's president says he has asked Zelaya not to provide a pretext for coup leaders to invade the Brazilian embassy.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he spoke with Zelaya by phone on Tuesday morning.

Silva said that by allowing Zelaya into its embassy, Brazil only did what any democratic country would do.

Zelaya's surprise arrival in Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, is apparently timed to grab the attention of world leaders gathering this week at the United Nations in New York, putting renewed international pressure on the interim government to let him return to power.

So far, the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti has refused to budge, and it asked Brazil to hand him over for arrest on charges of violating Honduras' constutition as president.

The government ordered a 26-hour shutdown of the capital beginning Monday afternoon, closed all the nation's international airports and set up roadblocks on highways leading into town to keep Zelaya supporters from staging the sort of protests that disrupted the city after his ouster.

But Zelaya loyalists ignored the decree and surrounded the embassy, dancing and cheering and using their cell phones to light up the streets after electricity was cut off on the block housing the embassy.

"We're here to support him and protect him, and we're going to stay here as long as it's physically possible," said Carlos Salgado, a 43-year-old jewelry maker from Zelaya's home state of Olancho.

Supported by the U.S. and other governments since his ouster, Zelaya called for negotiations with the leaders who forced him from the country at gunpoint.

The return suddenly overshadowed campaigning for the November presidential vote that the interim government hopes will restore an image of international legitimacy.

Zelaya told The Associated Press that he was trying to establish contact with the interim government to start negotiations on a solution to the standoff that started when soldiers arrested him at gunpoint and flew him to Costa Rica.

"As of now, we are beginning to seek dialogue," he said by telephone, though he gave few details.

The country's Congress and courts, alarmed by Zelaya's political shift into a close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, joined the army in engineering the president's removal in June.

He was arrested on orders of the Supreme Court on charges of treason and abuse of power for ignoring court orders against holding a referendum on reforming the constitution. His opponents feared he wanted to end a constitutional ban on re-election - a charge Zelaya denied.

Talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled over the interim government's refusal to accept Zelaya's reinstatement to the presidency. That proposed power-sharing agreement would limit his powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution.

Arias said Monday his proposed compromise is the last option to end the Honduran crisis. "I think this is the best opportunity, the best time, now that Zelaya's back in his country," he said in New York.

Zelaya returned on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the opposing factions in Honduras to look for a peaceful solution.

"It is imperative that dialogue begin, that there be a channel of communication between President Zelaya and the de facto regime in Honduras," Clinton said at a joint news conference with Arias.

Micheletti showed no inclination to give ground, saying late Monday that Zelaya had violated Arias' mediation effort by returning.

"Arias' mediation in Honduras' political problem has ended ... and he has absolutely nothing else to do in this conflict," Micheletti said in a televised interview.

The interim government was clearly caught off guard by Zelaya's dramatic move. Only minutes before he appeared publicly at the Brazilian Embassy, Honduran officials said reports of his return were a lie. They soon ordered a 15-hour curfew, then later extended the shutdown by another 11 hours, until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Speaking from the embassy, Zelaya summoned his countrymen to come to the capital for peaceful protests and urged the army to avoid attacking his supporters.

"It is the moment of reconciliation," he said.

Teachers union leader Eulogio Chavez announced that the country's 60,000 educators would go on strike indefinitely Tuesday to back Zelaya's demand to be reinstated.

International leaders almost unanimously denounced the armed removal of the president, worrying it could return Latin America to a bygone era of coups and instability. The United States, European Union and international agencies have cut aid to Honduras to press for his return.

The U.S. State Department announced Sept. 4 that it would not recognize results of the Nov. 29 presidential vote under current conditions - a ballot that was scheduled before Zelaya's ouster. The coup has shaken up Washington's relations with Honduras, traditionally one of its strongest allies in Central America.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, called for calm and warned Honduran officials to avoid any violation of the Brazilian diplomatic mission. "They should be responsible for the safety of president Zelaya and the Embassy of Brazil," he said.

Zelaya said he had "evaded a thousand obstacles" in getting back to Tegucigalpa but declined to give specifics on who helped him cross the border, saying that he didn't want to jeopardize their safety.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said neither his country nor the OAS had any role in Zelaya's journey before taking him in.

"We hope this opens a new stage in negotiations," Amorin said.

But Honduras' Foreign Relations Department accused Brazil of violating international law by "allowing Zelaya, a fugitive of Honduran justice, to make public calls to insurrection and political mobilization from its headquarters."
  • CBSNews

Comments