One dead in Honduras clash, world pressure grows

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A man was shot and killed in a clash between police and supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, as international pressure mounted on the de facto government to let the leftist return to power.

It was the first reported death in political violence since Zelaya, forced into exile by a June 28 coup, slipped back into Honduras this week and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

A 65-year-old Zelaya supporter was killed in the poor Flor del Campo district of the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Tuesday night, a source at the coroner’s office said. Five other pro-Zelaya protesters were shot and wounded in another part of the city, a doctor at the Escuela hospital said.

On Wednesday, riot police firing tear gas dispersed thousands of Zelaya supporters marching through the city toward the Brazilian Embassy, according to a Reuters witness. A Red Cross official said there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Zelaya slipped back into Honduras on Monday, ending almost three months of exile after he was toppled in the coup and bringing the world’s attention to his cause again.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police, some in ski masks and carrying automatic weapons, have surrounded the embassy where Zelaya is taking shelter with his family and about 40 supporters.

Brazil and Venezuela called at the United Nations for Zelaya, a former rancher and timber magnate who took office in 2006, to be returned to power. Concerned about the rising tension in Honduras, the United Nations suspended assistance in preparing the presidential election set for November.

Related Coverage

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who finds himself involved in a political crisis outside Brazil’s traditional sphere of influence in South America, said on Wednesday he requested a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama this week to discuss Honduras.

The government that has ruled the small Central American country since Zelaya’s overthrow said it was suspending a curfew in effect day and night since Monday starting at 6 a.m. (8 p.m. EDT) on Thursday and encouraged people who have been holed up inside to return to work.

Large lines formed at stores in the capital as residents rushed to stock up on water and basic foods. State-run television broadcast frequent messages from the de facto government warning that Zelaya would be responsible for any violent acts.

Honduras is a major coffee producer but output has not been affected by the crisis.

Soldiers toppled Zelaya at gunpoint and sent him into exile in his pajamas after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, saying he had broken the law by pushing for constitutional reforms that critics say were an attempt to change presidential term limits and extend his rule. Zelaya denies the allegations.


Slideshow ( 40 images )

De facto leader Roberto Micheletti said Zelaya could stay in the embassy “for five to 10 years” if he wanted, hinting his administration was getting ready for a long standoff.

Micheletti, a one-time Zelaya ally who was the head of Congress before the coup, was unmoved by the mounting international pressure on his government.

“We’re alone, but we’re surviving,” he said on Wednesday in an interview with CNN’s Spanish-language network.

Slideshow ( 40 images )

The United States, European Union and Organization of American States have urged dialogue to bring Zelaya back to office.

The Honduras crisis has been Obama’s most serious challenge so far in Latin America, earning him criticism from regional governments for not taking a tough enough stance to reverse the coup despite cutting some aid.

Lula, who is facing some criticism at home for harboring Zelaya at Brazil’s embassy, called at the U.N. General Assembly in New York for the deposed leader to be reinstated.

“The international community demands that Mr. Zelaya immediately return to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil’s diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras,” Lula said.

The leaders of the coup, backed by the country’s military, Supreme Court and Congress, insist Zelaya must face trial for violating the constitution, and have said Brazil must turn him over to Honduran authorities or give him political asylum outside the country.

Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Peter Cooney