Ousted Zelaya crosses into Honduras, briefly
Ousted President Manuel Zelaya took a few symbolic steps inside Honduras on Friday but then backed away from a confrontation with Honduran security forces waiting to arrest him.
In a move described as "reckless" by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the ousted leader in his trademark cowboy hat briefly crossed into Honduras in this small town on the border with Nicaragua.
Pausing to give live telephone interviews and surrounded by a pack of journalists, he approached the chain dividing the two central American nations, stepping over and held the chain over his head in triumph for a moment.
He then touched a sign saying "Welcome to Honduras" but, with troops and police standing just yards away, he said he did not want to proceed further out of "respect for the principles" of the military.
The leftist president was toppled and sent into exile in a June 28 coup after angering critics over his alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of the United States.
The de facto government that replaced him insists he was removed legally and that he will face charges if he returns.
The U.S. government has condemend the coup and backed a Costa Rican plan to end the crisis which calls for Zelaya's reinstatement, but it also advised him not to enter Honduras without a political deal in place.
Clinton said Zelaya's bid to return to his country was "reckless" and urged all sides to reach a negotiated, peaceful solution to the crisis.
"We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence. President Zelaya's effort to reach the border is reckless," Clinton told reporters. "It does not contribute to the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis."
Talks this week in Costa Rica about the standoff -- Central America's worst political crisis in 20 years -- appear to have fallen apart, raising the threat of violence inside Honduras.
Ignoring calls not to provoke tension, Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Esteli on Friday driving a jeep.
"We have to reverse this coup and I plan to do it peacefully. With my presence in Honduras, the people will surround me and the soldiers will lower their rifles," Zelaya said in Nicaragua before going to the border.
When he tried to fly home earlier this month one of his supporters was killed in clashes near the airport.
Honduran troops and police imposed a curfew near the border with Nicaragua on Friday, warning they would not be responsible for people caught up in any violence. Police in riot gear waited a short distance over the border and a helicopter flew overhead as Zelaya approached.
The ousted president, a logging magnate who draws support from unions and other leftists, called his family from the border, saying "I am on the Honduran side," witnesses said.
Earlier, security forces fired tear gas at dozens of pro-Zelaya supporters trying to reach the border to greet the president near the coffee town of El Paraiso. Most of Zelaya's supporters were kept several miles (kilometers) back.
The United States and Latin American governments have demanded Zelaya's reinstatement but Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti insists he will be detained for violating the constitution and other charges if he returns.
"The return of ex-president Zelaya isn't possible because it would be illegal and we have to respect the law," he told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera.
Deputy Foreign Minister Martha Lorena Alvarado said the interim government remained committed to negotiations.
The capital Tegucigalpa, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Los Manos, was calm on Friday with little evidence of the drama taking place on the border. State television was showing a pro-Micheletti demonstration in the city of San Pedro Sula.
The Honduran Congress will meet on Monday to discuss a proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to end the crisis. It is likely to reject it because it calls for the reinstatement of Zelaya, mistrusted by the ruling elite which accuses him of trying to extend presidential term limits.
U.S. President Obama has condemned the coup, cut $16.5 million in military aid and threatened to slash economic aid, but he has not yet taken measures directly against the coup leaders despite Zelaya's requests.
Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America and a coffee exporter, could be hard hit by any further sanctions.
Zelaya's approval rating had fallen to about 30 percent but many in the poor countryside still support him.
[Source: By Ivan Castro and Sean Mattson, Reuters, Las Manos, Nic, 24Jul09]
Informes Golpe de Estado en Honduras
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