Honduran military blocks Zelaya’s landing

July 3, 2009

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was turned away from his country during a suspense-filled attempt Sunday afternoon to land his plane near the capital Tegucigalpa one week after Honduran soldiers rousted him from bed and forced him on a plane into exile in Costa Rica.

The Honduran military and thousands of Zelaya supporters clashed outside of Tegucigalpa´s Toncontín Airport, resulting in the first death in what has become one of Latin America´s biggest political crises in decades. Nineteen-year-old Isis Obed Murillo died from a gunshot wound in the head and approximately 10 others were injured in the standoff, newswire EFE reported.

Minutes after the fatal injury, the Venezuelan jet carrying Zelaya appeared circling in the sky above the Tegucigalpa airport. On orders from Honduras´ de facto government, the armed forces blocked the runway with military vehicles, thwarting the deposed leader´s landing.

En route to Honduras, in an interview with Venezuelan TV station Telesur, Zelaya tried unsuccessfully to order the military personnel to clear the way.

“I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing my people,” Zelaya said from the plane, according to the daily Miami Herald´s Web site.

A delegation with U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D´Escoto,

Argentine President Cristina Fernández, Paraguay´s Fernando Lugo and Ecuador´s Rafael Correa was to accompany the deposed leader home.

Following several attempts at landing, the jet carrying Zelaya turned around and touched down in Managua, Nicaragua, before heading to the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, where he participated in a news conference with his fellow leaders.

Roberto Micheletti – who was named president in Honduras just hours after the military ousted Zelaya – called an emergency curfew at about 7 p.m. Sunday, extending by three hours the curfew it implemented in the days following the ouster, the BBC reported.

Earlier, Micheletti alleged Nicaragua was mobilizing troops near its border with Honduras, a charge Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega swiftly denied. “The idea is to divert attention by creating the idea that the conflict is with Nicaragua,” Ortega said. “ Nicaragua has no intention of firing a single shot at Honduras,” the Sandinista president said, in statements later echoed by a Nicaraguan military spokesman.

On Saturday, Nicaragua´s envoy to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C., denounced an alleged plot of Micheletti´s administration to blame Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela of providing weapons to Zelaya loyalists (http://www.ticotimes.net/dailyarchive/2009_07/0703094.cfm).

The capture and exile of Zelaya has been widely condemned as a military coup. Members of the Micheletti administration have rejected such accusations, defending the move as a legal, court-ordered arrest and removal of Zelaya from office, which was necessary to prevent further violence.

Nica Times editor Tim Rogers and news agencies contributed to this report.

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