TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A man was shot dead in a clash between police and supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, as international pressure mounted on the de facto government to allow the leftist back in power.
It was the first reported death in political violence since Zelaya, who was forced into exile by a June 28 coup, slipped back into Honduras on Monday and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy.
The man, a Zelaya supporter aged 65, was killed in the poor Flor del Campo district of the capital on Tuesday night, a source at the coroner’s office said.
Hundreds of soldiers and riot police, some in ski masks and toting automatic weapons, have surrounded the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya is sheltering with his family and a group of about 40 supporters.
Zelaya sneaked 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.
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.
A U.S. official said the de facto government in Honduras signaled it was willing to allow a visit by an Organization of American States mission to try to resolve the crisis, but the pro-coup rulers have insisted they will not allow Zelaya back to power.
Several hundred troops and police, some firing tear gas, cleared away pro-Zelaya demonstrators from around the embassy on Tuesday, injuring 30 people.
Security forces’ helicopters flew over the building throughout the night. Witnesses said soldiers blasted loud noise from speakers toward the building to try to keep Zelaya and his backers inside awake.
The government that has ruled Honduras since Zelaya’s overthrow relaxed a curfew that had been in effect day and night since Monday, allowing Hondurans to buy food.
De facto leader Roberto Micheletti said Zelaya could stay in the embassy “for 5 to 10 years” if he wanted, hinting that the pro-coup administration is getting ready for a long standoff. Electricity and water was briefly cut to the embassy on Tuesday but food was sent in, witnesses said.
The United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States have urged dialogue to bring Zelaya back to office in the Central American country.
The Honduras crisis has been U.S. President Barack Obama’s most serious challenge so far in Latin America and he has been criticized by regional governments for not taking a tough enough stance to reverse the coup despite cutting some aid.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called at the U.N. General Assembly in New York for Zelaya 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, drawing applause from the hall.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist ally of Zelaya, told reporters in New York that the United Nations should demand Zelaya be put back in power.
But Honduras’ de facto government has refused to soften its position against Zelaya’s attempt to retake power.
“Zelaya will never return to be president of this country,” Micheletti said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.
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.
Police said crowds tried to loot stores on the empty streets on Tuesday night, as most people huddled in their houses afraid they would be detained if they broke the curfew.
“I’m really worried about the situation because it doesn’t seem like they are resolving anything through dialogue. Instead there is just disorder and chaos,” said 32-year-old Tegucigalpa resident Karen Agustia.
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 and says he had no intention of staying in power beyond the end of his term. He had upset Honduras’ business groups, opposition leaders and a large chunk of his own party by developing a close alliance with Chavez.
Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Kieran Murray