Zelaya Blocked From Landing in Honduras After Supporters Shot

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Bloomberg News

Zelaya Blocked From Landing in Honduras After Supporters Shot

by
Andres R. Martinez and Steven Bodzin

Supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya cheer as his airplane flies overhead at the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Sunday, July 5, 2009. At least one person has been killed during clashes around the airport as Zelaya was kept from landing at the main Honduras airport Sunday because the runway was blocked by groups of soldiers with military vehicles, some of them lined up against a crowd of thousands outside. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

A plane carrying deposed President Manuel Zelaya was blocked from landing in Honduras as he tried to enter the country and resume power. He vowed to return as the jet he was traveling in headed to Nicaragua.

At least one person was killed near the airport in the capital, Tegucigalpa, as security forces blocked the runway with trucks and clashed with demonstrators. Six people were injured, five by gunshots, according to aid workers at the scene. Telesur, a television network owned by Venezuela's government, reported that at least two Zelaya supporters were killed.

"Stop this massacre in the name of God," Zelaya said in an interview on Telesur as his plane circled the airport.

Zelaya, 56, will now regroup with supporters as he continues his quest to return to power after being deposed June 28. The Honduran armed forces, lawmakers and courts have rallied behind interim President Roberto Micheletti, who said today: "I won't be pressured by anyone."

The acting government put two vehicles on the runway, leaving too little space for the Venezuela-owned jet to land, Zelaya said on Telesur by phone from the plane. He said his plane was landing in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

Zelaya had originally planned to return to Honduras on July 2. He delayed his trip as the Organization of American States and regional leaders tried to reach a compromise that would restore him to office.

OAS Meeting

Micheletti, speaking at a news conference today in Tegucigalpa, said the plane wouldn't be allowed to land to prevent the dispute from escalating into violence. Micheletti took power when troops ejected Zelaya from the country.

Zelaya flew from Washington where he attended a meeting of the OAS. Shortly before midnight, the group suspended Honduras's membership from the regional body, paving the way for sanctions.

The Honduran military closed the road in front of the presidential palace as well as the road to the international airport in Tegucigalpa. Venezuelan television showed images of military helicopters taking off and landing from the Tegucigalpa airport and vehicles and people on the runway.

Zelaya told Telesur that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza would fly in a separate aircraft to San Salvador, capital of neighboring El Salvador.

The OAS's reprimand further isolates the transitional government, which has yet to be recognized by any country.

Opposition to Zelaya

While the UN, European Union and OAS condemned the coup, the courts, Congress and business groups in Honduras defended the ouster, saying it was necessary to avoid a shift toward a government similar to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez, who said he would hold the new government responsible for anything that happens to Zelaya, said Venezuela has provided the plane he is flying in.

More than 10,000 people rallied in support of the transitional government July 2, the largest demonstration so far for the new government.

Opposition to Zelaya grew over the past year as he joined an alliance of socialist countries led by Chavez.

Approval for the Zelaya government fell to 30 percent in February from a high of 57 percent in January 2007, according to a nationwide poll by CID-Gallup.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also called for Zelaya's reinstatement, and the deposed president's wife and youngest son are being protected at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya may return to Washington as soon as tomorrow should he be barred from landing in the Honduran capital, a U.S. administration official said today on condition of anonymity.

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