June 28, 2009 / 11:05 PM / 11 years ago

Cuba condemns Honduras coup as 'criminal, brutal'

(For a TAKE A LOOK on Honduras, please click on [nN28343997])

* Cuba demands immediate return of Zelaya

* Zelaya viewed as ally of communist Cuba leadership

* Fidel Castro backed Zelaya’s re-election effort

HAVANA, June 28 (Reuters) - Cuba on Sunday condemned the military coup in Honduras as "criminal, brutal" and demanded the immediate return to office of deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya.

The Honduran army ousted Zelaya and exiled him on Sunday in Central America’s first military coup since the Cold War, after he upset the military by proposing an extension of his four-year term in office.

"I denounce the criminal, brutal character of this coup," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a news conference in Havana.

Zelaya is viewed by Cuba’s communist leadership as a leftist ally and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had expressed backing for his efforts to hold an unofficial public vote on Sunday to gauge support for his plan to hold a November referendum on allowing presidential re-election.

"This coup has removed a legitimate and constitutional government simply for wanting to carry out a consultation ... in Honduras there is only one constitutional government, one constitutional president who should return immediately without conditions to the palace," Rodriguez said.

The Cuban foreign minister also denounced what he called the violent treatment by Honduran troops of several foreign ambassadors in Tegucigalpa, specifically those of Cuba and Venezuela.

Earlier, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Honduran soldiers took away the Cuban ambassador and left the Venezuelan ambassador on the side of a road after beating him during the coup. The Cuban ambassador was later released.

Rodriguez said the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan ambassadors in Tegucigalpa had been seeking to give diplomatic shelter to Zelaya’s Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas when a band of Honduran soldiers, their faces hooded, had tried to take her away. He said he was extremely concerned for her safety.

Chavez on Sunday put troops on alert over the coup in Honduras and said he would respond militarily if his envoy to the Central American country was kidnapped or killed.

Rodriguez said there were 84 people, including diplomats, women and children, at the Cuban embassy in Tegucigalpa and said Cuba was "ready to defend the integrity of our embassy". (Reporting by Marc Frank, Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Philip Barbara)

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