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U.N. demands return of Honduran president

June 30, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- The U.N. General Assembly demanded the immediate restoration of Honduras' ousted president on Tuesday, but the man who replaced him said Manuel Zelaya could be arrested if he returns home.

The U.N. vote by acclamation added to an avalanche of international denunciations of the coup that removed Zelaya on Sunday, an action that raised fears of more of the military overthrows that have scarred Latin American history.

The world body called on all 192 U.N. member states to avoid recognizing any government in Honduras other than Zelaya's.

Zelaya then thanked the assembly for the "historic" resolution that expresses "the indignation" of people worldwide.

The Organization of American States planned an emergency meeting in Washington hours later to reinforce the pressure to reinstate Zelaya, whose foes claim he was plotting with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to change the Honduran constitution in hopes of extending his rule.

The United States, which had privately expressed concerns to Zelaya about changing the constitution, has stood behind him since masked soldiers sent him, still wearing pajamas, into exile.

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President Barack Obama said Zelaya remains "the democratically elected president."

"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," Obama said Monday.

Zelaya also got support from Latin American leaders in Nicaragua on Monday, and said OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had agreed to accompany him back to Honduras on Thursday.

But the man Honduras' Congress named as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, said Zelaya risks arrest if he returns because "the courts of my country have issued arrest orders."

Micheletti, speaking to Colombia's Caracol Radio on Tuesday, insisted it was Zelaya who had violated the constitution and that his court-ordered removal was legal.

"We have not committed a coup d'etat, but a constitutional succession," he said.

His foreign minister, Enrique Ortez Colindres, told CNN's Spanish language service that Zelaya faces allegations of "violation of the constitution, drug trafficking, of protecting organized crime, diverting multimillions in resources."

"Just entering (the country) he is going to be arrested; we already have the arrest warrants ready," Ortez said, adding that Micheletti "is going to obey what the judges say, but it is most likely he (Zelaya) will wind up in jail."

Ortez alleged that "every night three four Venezuelan-registered planes land ... bringing thousands, but thousands of pounds ... of packages of money that are the fruits of drug trafficking."

He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had evidence of those shipments, though DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said he cannot confirm or deny the DEA is investigating Zelaya.

About 5,000 anti-Zelaya demonstrators gathered at a main plaza in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday to celebrate his ouster.

"Freedom has won, peace has triumphed, Honduras has won," newly appointed deputy foreign minister Marta Lorena Casco told the crowd. She said Zelaya had planned to make the country a socialist pawn. "Chavez consumed Venezuela, then Bolivia, after that Ecuador and Nicaragua, but in Honduras that didn't happen," she said.

Soldiers and police set up a chain link fence before dawn to seal off the area in front of the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa, preventing a repeat of Monday's clashes in which security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse pro-Zelaya protesters who were throwing rocks and bottles.

Some local television stations remained off the air and local media carried few reports of any demonstrations in Zelaya's favor.

At least 38 pro-Zelaya protesters were detained, said Sandra Ponce, a government human rights official.

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 five injured people.

"In the name of God, in the name of the people, stop repressing the people," Zelaya said in Nicaragua, urging soldiers to return to their barracks.

Zelaya said more than 150 people were injured and 50 were arrested but added that he didn't "have exact figures, because I'm not there."

Mexico and Colombia's conservative governments joined the region's leftist leaders in condemning Zelaya's removal and blocked trucks began lining up on both sides of the border with Honduras as neighboring countries imposed a trade ban.

"They're not letting in loaded or empty trucks," said Salvadoran trucker Carlos Alas, who had been stuck in the border town of El Poy since Sunday trying to ferry Honduran fabric to a Salvadoran factory.

Chavez urged a rebellion by the Honduran people, and vowed to halt shipments of subsidized oil, though Honduras gets most of its oil from other sources.

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