Ousted Honduras president briefly crosses border

Ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya briefly stepped across the Nicaragua border and into his homeland Friday, defying the orders of the ruling government that overthrew him a month ago.
Ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya gestures Friday during his arrival at the border of Nicaragua and Honduras. ((Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters))

Ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya crossed the Nicaragua border and took a few steps into his homeland on Friday, defying the orders of the ruling government that overthrew him a month ago.

Wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, he only stayed in Honduras briefly, as Honduras officials had vowed to arrest him if he dared return.

"I am not afraid, but I'm not crazy, either," Zelaya told the swarm of reporters who gathered to watch him make the symbolic gesture. "There could be violence and I don't want to be the cause."

Zelaya, who wants to be reinstated, said he was forced to take this action because he has not been able to negotiate a verbal agreement with the interim government, which took power in a June 28 coup. After his brief venture into Honduras, Zelaya said he is ready to return to the negotiating table.

"The best thing is to reach an understanding that respects the will of the people," he said.

Clashes along the border

Zelaya's arrival Friday in the Nicaragua border town of Las Manos sparked clashes between his supporters and Honduras security forces.

The interim Honduras government had ordered everyone living along the 1,000-kilometre Honduras-Nicaragua border to stay indoors from noon Friday until dawn Saturday, but thousands of Zelaya's backers defied the order and flocked to the Honduras border town of El Paraiso, across from Las Manos.

There, they clashed with security forces who fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Witnesses said police also fired live ammunition at the crowd. A Honduran military helicopter swooped by but stayed in Honduran territory.

Police reported one demonstrator was slightly injured.

U.S. Secretary of State of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zeyala's brief return "reckless."

Interim Honduras leader Roberto Micheletti has insisted his administration will arrest Zelaya once he sets foot in the country. However, in a statement Friday, he said he is still willing to negotiate.

All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile in Costa Rica.

The United States and the Organization of American States have asked Zelaya to be patient and not return on his own, fearing it could plunge the country into chaos.

With files from The Associated Press