Zelaya Faces arrest in Honduras as Protests Rise
TEGUCIGALPA - Officials ordered the arrest of ousted President Manuel Zelaya if he returns to Honduras after being expelled in an army-backed coup, as thousands of protesters took to the streets here.
And as the United Nations backed international calls for Zelaya to return to power, the ousted leader said in New York that he would not seek a second term in office -- a key concern in the tense political showdown.
Zelaya, 57, was removed in his pajamas by Honduran troops Sunday and put on a plane to Costa Rica amid a dispute with the military and courts over plans to change the constitution, including to allow him to run for a second term.
Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi said Tuesday that Zelaya would "immediately" be arrested if he returned to Honduras, where legal officials have accused him of 18 crimes including "treason" and "abuse of authority."
Zelaya has vowed to return on Thursday, which many fear could spark clashes between his supporters and opponents.
But he apparently sought to defuse the tensions Tuesday by making clear he would not seek to extend his non-renewable four-year term to which he was elected in 2005.
"If offered the possibility to remain in power (for a second term), I would not do it," the ousted leader told a press conference in New York.
"I am going to fulfill my term up until January 27."
Just hours after Zelaya was deposed, the Honduran Congress swore in its speaker Roberto Micheletti as the interim president until January.
Demonstrations grew Tuesday after protesters on Monday defied a 48-hour curfew issued by Micheletti, triggering violent clashes on the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Micheletti said Tuesday that he would consult with security forces about whether to continue the curfew, and, speaking on Colombian radio, blamed unspecified foreigners for assisting groups carrying out acts of violence.
As thousands of pro- and anti-Zelaya protesters took to the streets on Tuesday, Honduran Rodolfo Alvarez, in an immigration line at the airport, blamed Zelaya for country's crisis.
"We Hondurans want to live in peace and what's happened since Sunday is Zelaya's fault," the 58-year-old lawyer said.
"He doesn't speak the truth and most of us don't want our country turning into another Cuba or Venezuela."
Zelaya moved increasingly to the left since he was elected, closely influenced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leftists.
Pro-Zelaya union leaders announced a national strike and accused soldiers of blocking roads to prevent demonstrators from traveling into Tegucigalpa.
They said at least 10,000 people were taking part in pro-Zelaya protests in the capital, as well as in other protests around the country.
Clashes Monday near the presidential palace left a number of demonstrators and security forces injured.
The army said 15 soldiers and 15 officers had been injured, while protest organizers reported 276 injured in the most serious violence in years in this impoverished Central American country of 7.5 million people.
Zelaya took his case before the United Nations Tuesday shortly after the 192-member General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the army-backed coup and demanding his "immediate and unconditional" reinstatement.
Zelaya's key ally, regional leftist heavyweight Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile warned that Zelaya's decision to return on Thursday represented a danger for him and those accompanying him.
Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner have offered to join Zelaya on his return.
Politicians, business leaders, most communications media and a substantial part of the population have applauded Zelaya's overthrow, despite the violent street protests and international outrage.
And US President Barack Obama said Washington believed Zelaya "remains the president of Honduras."
Zelaya was set to pass through the US capital on Wednesday on his way back to Honduras.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos meanwhile said that Madrid, the former colonial power, wanted the European Union to recall its ambassadors.
Central American neighbors have also agreed to isolate Tegucigalpa politically and economically, ordering the regional bank to suspend loans and payments to Honduras.
And members of the Andean Community, a trade bloc comprised of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, agreed not to recognize any Honduran government other than Zelaya's.