TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - In Central America’s first military coup since the Cold War, the Honduran army ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday over his bid to make it legal to seek another term in office.
Here are some questions and answers on the situation in Honduras, an impoverished and crime-wracked nation and long-time ally of the United States.
On an order from the Supreme Court, which opposed Zelaya’s quest to try and change the constitution and allow presidential re-election, the military seized Zelaya at his home at dawn on Sunday and flew him to nearby Costa Rica
The coup followed days of tension over Zelaya’s attempt, opposed by the army, the courts and Congress, to hold an unofficial poll on Sunday to gauge public support for holding a November referendum on letting presidents seek re-election.
Honduran deputies named Congress head Roberto Micheletti as temporary president and the army is likely to return to barracks. The country’s electoral court said a November 29 president election would go ahead as planned.
However, many foreign governments, from the United States to Venezuela, said they still recognize only Zelaya as the legal president of Honduras.
The United States and the European Union, as well as a string of other governments, have expressed deep concern. Washington has urged calm and says it recognizes Zelaya as president. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for Zelaya’s reinstatement.
The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, strongly condemned the coup and backed Zelaya. The OAS was holding an urgent meeting to discuss the situation.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is due to hold emergency talks with fellow Latin American leftist leaders in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.
Chavez, who has backed Zelaya’s bid to change the constitution, says he has put his troops on alert and threatened military action if his envoy was killed or his embassy in Honduras attacked. He says he will do everything necessary to abort the coup.
Chavez, long at odds with the United States, also said there should be an investigation into whether there was a U.S. role in the coup. The United States — which has 550-600 troops stationed at a Honduran base carrying out humanitarian, anti-drug and disaster relief operations — has denied it was involved in the ouster.
The most serious immediate risk is that Chavez, who has championed a new wave of socialism across Latin America, takes military action. However, he has a history of making military threats and not following up on them.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist rebel who has aligned his country with Venezuela, called the coup “an act of terrorism” but has not threatened further action. Nicaragua borders Honduras.
Ecuador’s left-wing President Rafael Correa said he would participate in military action only if his envoys are threatened.
Some 2,000 pro-Zelaya protesters, some armed with shovels and metal poles, massed outside the presidential palace and burned tires on Sunday, saying they would remain there until Zelaya is brought back.
But there were no serious clashes and most residents of the capital said they were staying home to avoid any trouble.
It is unclear how strong a Zelaya protest movement would be. Recent opinion polls show public support for Zelaya had dropped as low as 30 percent, in part because of the knock-on effect of the global economic crisis, and members of his own party voted against him in recent days.
Honduras has been split since Zelaya moved closer to Chavez, upsetting the army and the conservative wealthy elite. His push to change the constitution drove a rift between his office and the country’s other institutions.
Zelaya is set to fly to Nicaragua early on Monday for a meeting with Chavez and other leftist leaders from the region, his spokesman, who was still in Honduras, said.
CNN’s Spanish-language channel reported that Zelaya has requested political asylum in Costa Rica but his spokesman could not confirm that.
A former businessman with ranching and logging interests, Zelaya has insisted he was not seeking a second term for himself, and it is unclear how hard he will fight to be reinstated.
Honduras, devastated in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. It suffers from massive unemployment among its population of 7 million and is already set for lackluster economic growth of 2 percent this year.
The leadership crisis is not seen affecting key coffee, textile or banana industries for now, and the country’s main problem continues to be a squeeze on the remittances from Honduran migrants that make up a quarter of gross domestic product.
Central America has been broadly stable with democracy taking root in recent decades after years of dictatorships and Cold War conflicts. But crime, corruption and poverty are still major problems that fan discontent among the public.
Writing by Catherine Bremer, Editing by Frances Kerry