TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - Police and soldiers clashed with
thousands of protesters outside Honduras' national palace Monday,
leaving dozens of people injured, as world leaders from Barack
Obama to Hugo Chavez demanded the return of a president ousted in a
President Manuel Zelaya said he would seek to return to his
country Thursday and reclaim control of the government. He said he
would accept an offer from the head of the Organization of American
States to accompany him to Honduras.
Across Latin America, leftist leaders pulled their ambassadors
from Honduras and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said El
Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala would cut trade with neighboring
Honduras for at least 48 hours. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
called for Hondurans to rise up against those who toppled his ally.
"We're ready to support the rebellion of the Honduran people,"
Chavez said. He later vowed to halt Venezuelan oil shipments to
Honduras and called for its soldiers to rise up against "that
tyrannical, puppet government."
Protests outside the presidential palace grew from hundreds to
thousands, and 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 as they
retreated. At least 38 protesters were detained, according to human
rights prosecutor Sandra Ponce.
Red Cross paramedic Cristian Vallejo said he had transported 10
protesters to hospitals, most of them with injuries from rubber
bullets. Congresswoman Silvia Ayala said she counted 30 injured at
a single Tegucigalpa hospital and an Associated Press photographer
in another area close to the palace saw protesters carrying away
another five injured people. It was not clear how they were hurt.
Zelaya said more than 150 people were injured and 50 were
arrested but added that he didn't "have exact figures, because I'm
Officers also briefly detained four journalists from the AP and
three from Venezuela-based Telesur, arresting them at their hotel
with rifles drawn, loading them in a military vehicle and taking
them to an immigration office, where two officials demanded to see
their visas. The group was released a short time later.
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
"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 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.
During a meeting of Latin America laeders in Nicaragua, OAS
Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza offered to accompany Zelaya
back to Honduras and work for reconciliation and the restoration of
the democratic order.
Zelaya said he would accept the offer and wanted to make the
trip Thursday, after attending a meeting of the U.N. General
Assembly on Tuesday to seek support from its 192 member nations.
"I am going to ask you to accompany me, you offered, and I
accept your offer," Zelaya said, moments after receiving a
standing ovation from the gathered leaders.
Honduras' 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 and began naming
Cabinet members, including a new minister of defense.
"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
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
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
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
Zelaya said the coup only proved the need to transform the
Honduran system of government, apparently referring to the
constitutional changes he had been promoting.
"A lot of times problems like this crisis serve to propel
transformation and change," he said.
Recalling his detention, he said his daughter hid under her bed
for 35 minutes while masked soldiers burst in to the residence and
searched for him. He was on the phone with a media outlet when the
soldiers ordered him to drop the cell phone, he said
He said the soldiers were shaking as they pointed their guns
because they were "facing the president of the republic, and they
"I said, I'm not going to drop it. If you have been ordered to
shoot, then shoot," Zelaya said.
He said the soldiers simply yanked the phone from his hand.
Venezuela's Chavez told the gathered leaders that "it's the
moment to act" to restore Zelaya. "I'll do everything possible to
overthrow this gorilla government of Honduras. It must be
overthrown," the socialist leader said.
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
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. It said late Monday
it would withdraw its ambassador.
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.".
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
Honduras had not seen a coup since 1978, when one military
government overthrew another.