Ousted President Plans Return To Honduras

A demonstrator, with a Honduran flag on his shoulders, stands next to a bonfire near to the presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Monday, June 29, 2009. Honduras' new leaders defied growing global pressure on Monday to reverse a military coup, arguing that they had followed their constitution in removing President Manuel Zelaya.
Ousted President Manuel Zelaya says he wants to return to Honduras this week accompanied by the head of the Organization of American States.

Zelaya says he will accept an offer by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to return to the Central America country with him. Zelaya says he wants to make the trip Thursday.

He spoke Monday in Nicaragua during a meeting of Latin American leaders to discuss Sunday's coup in Honduras.

Insulza had made the offer moments before Zelaya spoke.

Earlier Monday, police and soldiers clashed with thousands of protesters outside Honduras' national palace Monday as world leaders from Barack Obama to Hugo Chavez demanded the return of a president ousted in a military coup.

Leftist leaders pulled their ambassadors from Honduras and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for Hondurans to rise up against those who toppled his ally, Manuel Zelaya.

"We're ready to support the rebellion of the Honduran people," Chavez said, though he did not say what kind of support he was offering.

Protests outside the presidential palace grew from hundreds to thousands, and in the afternoon soldiers and police advanced behind riot shields, using tear gas to scatter the protesters. The demonstrators, many of them choking on the gas, hurled rocks and bottles.

Security forces fired rifles but it was not clear whether they were using live ammunition. There were no immediate confirmations of injuries. Reporters saw at least five people detained.

In Washington, Obama said the United States will "stand on the side of democracy" and work with other nations and international groups to resolve the matter peacefully.

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there," Obama said.

"It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections," he added. "The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions. ... We don't want to go back to a dark past."

The universal condemnation of the coup placed Mr. Obama "in an unusual agreement with … the governments of Cuba and Venezuela," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk. "And with such overwhelming opposition to the removal of Zelaya, it will be hard for the new government of Honduras to make the case that this was in fact not a coup but the following of a constitutional procedure."

Zelaya's ouster was Central America's first coup in at least 16 years, a blow from the barracks that reminded many of the military dictatorships the region has tried to bury in its past.

"By Thursday of last week, the United Nations was aware of the ouster attempt, and international efforts to negotiate a diplomatic resolution - which involved the White House, the European Union and regional governments - failed," Falk reported.

The Organization of American States called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to consider suspending Honduras under an agreement meant to prevent the sort of coups that for generations made Latin America a tragic spawning ground of military dictatorships.

The new government, however, was defiant. Roberto Micheletti, named by Congress to serve out the final seven months of Zelaya's term, vowed to ignore foreign pressure.

"We respect everybody and we ask only that they respect us and leave us in peace because the country is headed toward free and transparent general elections in November," Micheletti told HRN radio.

He insisted Zelaya's ouster was legal and accused the former president himself of violating the constitution by sponsoring a referendum that was outlawed by the Supreme Court. Many saw the foiled vote as a step toward eliminating barriers to his re-election, as other Latin American leaders have done in recent years.

Despite the protests at the palace, daily life appeared normal in most of the capital, with nearly all businesses open. Some expressed relief at the departure of Zelaya, who alienated the courts, Congress, the military and even his own party in his tumultuous three years in power.

"A coup d'etat is undemocratic and you never want to support it, but in the case of this guy and his government, maybe so," said Roberto Cruz, a 61-year-old metalworker.

But Zelaya retains the loyalty of many of Honduras' poor, for having raised the minimum wage and blaming the country's problems on the rich - despite the considerable wealth he enjoys as a successful rancher.

Farmworker Jesus Almendares, 30, said he was skipping work to protest the coup.

"It's a tremendous shame, yet another proof that the armed forces control the country - they and the businessmen," he said.

Zelaya was arrested in his pajamas Sunday morning by soldiers who stormed his residence and flew him into exile. A day later, back in suit and tie, he sat beside Chavez and other allies at a Nicaragua meeting of the nine-nation ALBA alliance, which agreed to pull its ambassadors from Honduras and reject the replacement government's envoys.

While Obama said Zelaya is still president, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hedged on that point at an earlier news conference, suggesting that both the ousted president and his foes should make compromises.

Asked if the administration would insist that Zelaya be restored to power, she said: "We haven't laid out any demands that we're insisting on, because we're working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives."

Mexico's government, one of the most conservative in Latin America, joined leftists in denouncing the coup and offered protection to Zelaya's exiled foreign minister.

The president of Latin America's largest nation, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said on his weekly radio program that his country will not recognize any Honduran government that doesn't have Zelaya as president "because he was directly elected by the vote, complying with the rules of democracy."

"We in Latin America can no longer accept someone trying to resolve his problem through the means of a coup," Silva said.

Coups were common in Central America until the 1980s, but Sunday's ouster was the first military power grab in Latin America since a brief, failed 2002 coup against Chavez.

It was the first military ouster of a Central American president since 1993, when Guatemalan military officials refused to accept President Jorge Serrano's attempt to seize absolute power and removed him.

Honduras had not seen a coup since 1978, when one military government overthrew another.