Ousted president's return plan raises fears in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, Sophie Nicholson - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras on Sunday accompanied by a handful of Latin American leaders, stirring up fears of a violent showdown in the polarized nation.
The Central American nation headed toward increasing isolation Saturday as the Organization of American States met in Washington to decide whether to suspend its membership for its refusal to reinstate the ousted president.

Ousted president's return plan raises fears in Honduras
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza -- who warned of increasing tension and polarization during a brief visit to Tegucigalpa -- meanwhile dismissed an announcement from the interim leaders in which they anticipated the suspension by pulling out of the regional body.
The decision meant nothing because "it's a government which for the 34 member countries and for the international community does not legally exist," Insulza told Chilean radio on Saturday.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya meanwhile confirmed to a television news station in Venezuela that he would return to his country on Sunday, and do so with "several presidents" of allied countries.
"I am planning my return to Honduras... we will arrive at the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with several presidents, (and) members of international organizations," Zelaya told Caracas-based station Telesur.
"This Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa," he confirmed.
Shortly beforehand, Catholic leaders warned of a potential bloodbath if Zelaya returned to the country.
"We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a bloodbath," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez -- the capital's archbishop -- said on national radio and television, reading a message from the country's Bishop's Conference.
"To this day no Honduran has died. Please think, because afterwards it will be too late," Rodriguez added.
Thousands of Zelaya's supporters and opponents have demonstrated daily since the president was bundled away to Costa Rica last Sunday, and brief clashes have broken out between the army and protesters.
It was unclear exactly how many people had been injured and detained, amid growing protests from international rights groups.
Thousands of pro-Zelaya supporters took to the streets of Tegucigalpa once again on Saturday, including some who said they had traveled five days to reach the capital.
A pessimistic Insulza said here late Friday that those who ousted Zelaya last weekend did not plan to reverse the situation, and denounced a "military coup."
Insulza met politicians and legal and religious figures, but not the interim president, Roberto Micheletti, whom he does not recognize.
Micheletti's supporters says the army was justified in ousting Zelaya -- on orders of Congress and the Supreme Court -- because he had called a referendum to change the constitution that they claim he planned to use to extend his rule.
The interim government has said it may consider holding early elections to end the impasse, but now looked set to try to hunker down until scheduled elections in November.
A freezing of millions of dollars of international aid, regional trade blockades and recalls of foreign ambassadors have already hit the country in the past week.
With lives also disrupted by night-time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- as well as media blackouts and detentions, tension has risen in one of Latin America's poorest countries.
Zelaya has meanwhile traveled the region seeking support and said he no longer wishes to change the constitution.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa reiterated he was ready to Honduras on Sunday with Zelaya, along with the presidents of Argentina and Paraguay.
"Of course there are risks but if I got hit by a bullet it would have been done if favor of the citizen's revolution," Correa said in his weekly radio and television broadcast.
Chavez, Zelaya's main backer, has announced that Venezuela would suspend key shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

Sunday, July 5th 2009
Sophie Nicholson

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