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Showdown Looms in Honduras: Rival Vows to Arrest Ousted President on His Return

Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa at dawn on June 28 and ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The coup was mostly peaceful, though tanks and soldiers occupied streets in the Honduran capital.

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By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, June 30 -- The two presidents of Honduras were headed on a collision course Tuesday, as the president ousted by a coup vowed to return and his replacement threatened to arrest him the minute he lands.

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Neither side seemed willing to bend in a looming confrontation that is the first test of the Obama administration's diplomacy and clout in the hemisphere.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, removed from office Sunday in a military-led coup, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday and said he would fly back to Honduras on Thursday, accompanied by the head of the Organization of American States.

But the newly appointed interim president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, warned that if Zelaya returns, he will be arrested, tried and sent to prison for years. Micheletti's claim on the presidency is seen as illegitimate by the international community.

"If he comes back to our country, he would have to face our tribunals and our trials and our laws," Micheletti said in an interview with The Washington Post at his residence in the hills overlooking the capital. "He would be sent to jail. For sure, he would go to prison."

Micheletti said he did not see any way to negotiate with the Obama administration and international diplomats seeking a return of Zelaya to power because, Micheletti insisted, Zelaya was guilty of crimes against the country.

"No, no compromise, because if he tries to come back or anyone tries to bring him back, he will be arrested," Micheletti said.

At the United Nations, Zelaya told the assembly, "I'm going back to calm people down. I'm going to try to open a dialogue and put things in order."

Zelaya, whose politics moved to the left during his three years in office, has become close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has been the most vocal and belligerent critic of the coup, threatening to "overthrow" the new government.

"When I'm back, people are going to say, 'Commander, we're at your service,' and the army will have to correct itself," Zelaya told the assembly. "There's no other possibility."

Yet other possibilities do exist. Thousands of Hondurans rallied Tuesday in the central plaza of the capital, Tegucigalpa, to support the forced removal of Zelaya and to shout their support for the armed forces.

"It would be a disgrace to have him back in the country," said Emilio Larach, owner of a large building materials company here, who attended the rally to denounce Zelaya. "He created hate among the Honduran people. Everyone in the government was against him."


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