Ousted Honduran leader's return thwarted

The Honduran military thwarted an attempt by ousted president Manuel Zelaya to land at the main airport serving Tegucigalpa on Sunday by blocking the runway with vehicles carrying soldiers.

The Honduran military thwarted an attempt by ousted president Manuel Zelaya to land at the main airport serving Tegucigalpa on Sunday by blocking the runway with vehicles carrying soldiers.

Zelaya's plane landed in Nicaragua and he vowed to try again on Monday or Tuesday even though the Honduran interim government vowed to prevent his return.

His next destination would be El Salvador where the leaders of Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador and the secretary-general of the Organization of American States flew from Washington and were awaiting his arrival.

Earlier, when the plane was minutes from landing in Honduras, Zelaya appealed to the military to return its loyalty to him.

"I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing with my people," Zelaya said from the plane.

Manuel Zelaya holds a news conference at the United Nations on June 30, two days after he was ousted as president of Honduras in a military coup. ((Mark Lennihan/Associated Press))

Last Sunday, soldiers removed Zelaya, 56, from his home at gunpoint and flew him to Costa Rica after a dispute over presidential term limits.

Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez said earlier Sunday, "The landing of the plane which will bring the ex-president is banned." Zelaya's plane would be diverted, the interim government said.

Zelaya's promise to return created a tense situation at Toncontin International Airport, the main airport serving Tegucigalpa. He left Washington, D.C., earlier Sunday on a jet headed for Honduras.

Most commercial flights were cancelled and hundreds of police and soldiers have stood guard at the airport for the past two days.

At least one person was killed — shot in the head — and two were badly wounded on Sunday when thousands of supporters clashed with troops at the airport, a medic and emergency services at the scene told Reuters.

A spokesman said the Red Cross was treating about 30 people for injuries, including a woman who had been stabbed.

Following the clash, the interim government extended a sunset-to-sunrise curfew that began three hours earlier at 7 p.m. local time.

No other Latin American leaders accompanied Zelaya, contradicting an earlier statement from the exiled Honduran leader that the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador and the leader of the OAS would escort him back to power.

Political entourage

Zelaya flew with close advisers and staff, two journalists from the Venezuelan television network Telesur and UN General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and former foreign minister who personally condemned Zelaya's ouster as a coup d'état.

Several other planes carrying Latin American presidents, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and journalists left Washington separately, trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land.

If Zelaya's plane were allowed to land, the others would land as well, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said. If not, they would land in El Salvador.

As his plane was being diverted to Nicaragua, Zelaya called on the United Nations, the OAS, the United States and European countries to "do something with this repressive regime."

"We should look for an immediate solution," Zelaya told Telesur.

He then met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega before leaving for consultations in El Salvador.

Zelaya recently lost support from the military, the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court over a referendum on constitutional reform.

Opponents feared he would use the vote, scheduled to begin the same day he was removed, to remain in power after his term ends on Jan. 27, 2010. The Honduran constitution limits presidents to a single four-year term.

The country's new government has vowed to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.

On Saturday, the OAS suspended Honduras as a member. Interim president Roberto Micheletti preemptively pulled out of the OAS hours earlier rather than comply with an ultimatum that Zelaya be restored.

But Micheletti said Sunday the interim government had contacted the OAS to express its willingness to begin talks.

With files from The Associated Press