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Hondurans Deeply Divided Over Ouster of President


Thousands of supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya marched through the streets of the nation's capital, Tegucigalpa, Sunday and jammed the roads around the international airport awaiting his return.

Authorities blocked the runway, however, preventing his plane from landing and clashes between demonstrators and soldiers guarding the airport left at least one Zelaya supporter dead. Such violence could deepen the already large rift between those who support Mr. Zelaya and those who support the officials who threw him out of office.

The demonstrators who showed up at the airport Sunday had hoped to greet the man they continue to regard as the legitimate president of their country. This woman, who is associated with a pro-Zelaya labor union, says his return is essential if Honduras is to remain a democracy and a nation of laws.

She says the people elected Mr. Zelaya to a four-year term and that he must be allowed to come back and finish it. New elections are scheduled for November and a new president is to take office in January.

Roberto Micheletti, the man who replaced Mr. Zelaya after he was seized by soldiers and sent out of the country a week ago, has suggested the elections could be moved up. In a news conference Sunday, he offered to participate in a dialogue to resolve the crisis. But his conciliatory talk was met with scorn by many Zelaya supporters, including this man.

He says the interim government led by Mr. Micheletti is now cornered and looking for a way out. He says there is nothing to negotiate, Mr. Zelaya was elected president and he must be allowed to finish his term.

While many Zelaya supporters back him fully, some do admit that the man known to many by his nickname Mel made some grave errors. This man, speaking in English, defended the president's intent.

"All the mistakes that Mel did was just to help the poor people, just to look for a good life for the poor people," he said.

Nearly half of Hondurans live in extreme poverty and their country is listed as the third-poorest in the Western hemisphere. Mr. Zelaya pushed for more anti-poverty programs and also championed what he called "people power."

But this populist approach drove a wedge between Mr. Zelaya and the business community, the military and even some of the people in his own party who had been his supporters early on. Mr. Zelaya aligned himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and traveled frequently to meet with him.

Many Hondurans worried that Mr. Zelaya was trying to turn their country into a socialist state like Cuba. This man is among the thousands who have taken to the streets here this week to back the interim government.

He says the ouster of President Zelaya was not a coup d'etat, but a substitution of leaders brought on by his illegal actions. He says these were crimes against Honduras and the Honduran people.

The military ousted President Zelaya after he tried to implement a non-binding referendum that was supposed to lead to a change in the constitution to allow a president to serve more than one term in office. The current constitution describes any attempt to change the term limit as illegal. When the leader of the Honduran Armed Forces, General Romeo Vasquez refused to assist in setting up the referendum because the Supreme Court had declared it illegal, Mr. Zelaya tried to fire him. But the Supreme Court backed the general and later ordered Mr. Zelaya's arrest for violating the constitution.

Supporters of the interim government argue that the removal of President Zelaya from power was legal and necessary, but their arguments have done little to sway the opinion of thousands of Zelaya supporters who continue to await his return, not only to this country, but to the presidential palace.


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