It would take a foreign invasion to return the ousted president of Honduras to power, said the country's newly installed president, Roberto Micheletti, who assumed power following a military coup Sunday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Micheletti vowed that Manuel Zelaya would be arrested if he returned to Honduras, even though the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador have agreed to accompany him, along with the heads of the Organization of American States and the UN General Assembly.
"He can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns," Micheletti said.
Zelaya was ousted Sunday by the army, which opposed his efforts to institute constitutional reform.
Micheletti, installed by the country's national congress, also made a bold claim suggesting the entire Honduran population backs his interim government.
Though Zelaya still enjoys strong support, especially among the poor majority, Micheletti warned that all "7.5 million Hondurans will be ready to defend our territory" against a foreign invasion.
His foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, also threatened Zelaya's escorts, saying: "We will let his companions enter if they represent friendly countries. If not, no."
While thousands of Hondurans demonstrated Wednesday for the return of Zelaya, thousands more rallied in favour of the military-backed government.
France, Spain, Italy, Chile and Colombia joined other nations Wednesday in recalling their ambassadors. The Pentagon suspended joint U.S.-Honduran military operations, and the World Bank said it was freezing loans.
The three Latin American countries that border Honduras — Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala — have suspended cross-border trade.
Soldiers stormed Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile Sunday after he insisted on trying to hold a referendum on constitutional reform. The Supreme Court, congress and the military all deemed his planned ballot illegal. Zelaya backed down Tuesday, saying he will no longer push for constitutional changes.
Seeking to stem internal unrest, congress approved a bill Wednesday that toughens a curfew in place since the coup. The law gives authorities the power to conduct warrantless arrests and removes constitutional rights of assembly and movement during the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Both sides of the dispute mobilized supporters in the streets Wednesday, with a pro-Zelaya march in the capital and pro-Micheletti demonstrations in other cities. No violence was reported.
Leftist broadcasters say they have been forced off the air or had signals interrupted by soldiers under orders of the new government. Micheletti said he would look into the allegations.
The Organization of American States gave Micheletti until Saturday to step aside before Honduras is suspended from the group, an ultimatum Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said was meant "to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted. We thought we were in an era when military coups were no longer possible in this hemisphere."
Zelaya delayed plans to return Thursday to let that deadline play out.
"I'm going to respect those 72 hours that the OAS asked for," he said from Panama, where he attended a presidential inauguration.
The coup has been condemned by countries worldwide from across the political spectrum, as well as by the UN General Assembly.
The Obama administration has also sided clearly with Zelaya, despite criticism from Republicans that this puts it on the same side as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Castros in Cuba. Micheletti told the AP he has had no contacts with any U.S. official since the coup.