Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has vowed he will return to Honduras later this week after addressing the United Nations in New York to protest the coup that ousted him from power.
Honduras police and military have cracked down on demonstrators in the aftermath of his exile, as international pressure mounts for him to be restored as president.
Defying a government curfew, hundreds of angry Zelaya supporters erected barricades near the presidential palace, threw rocks and beat at shield-bearing riot police with sticks and metal bars, with security forces cracking down on the protesters with tear gas and gunfire, an AFP photographer said.
The violence, the most serious unrest in years in this Central American country, left several demonstrators and security forces wounded.
Harsh words from Obama
US President Barack Obama said the United States believed Zelaya “remains the president of Honduras” a day after troops bundled the 57-year-old out of his bed in pajamas and whisked him away to exile in Costa Rica.
Obama said the coup in the Central American nation was “not legal” and called for international cooperation to solve the crisis peacefully.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international community’s “immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country.”
Micheletti sworn in
Just hours after Zelaya was deposed, the Honduran Congress swore in its speaker, Roberto Micheletti, as the interim president until January.
In one of his first acts, Micheletti imposed a 48-hour curfew on the capital and insisted he had come to power via a legal process. He also began naming members of his cabinet on Monday.
But Zelaya has said he remains the elected leader, and scores of young people, many wearing scarves to cover their faces, protested in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Monday. Shots had been heard in the city late Sunday.
“President Mel is the only one,” said Joseph, who was wielding an iron bar, and using the president’s nickname.
Zelaya ‘did not resign’
“It was a coup, Mel Zelaya did not resign,” agreed Amilcar Umanzo, brandishing a human rights manual in his hand. “The political and economic class united to overthrow the constitutional president,” he added.
Zelaya’s overthrow was triggered by a standoff with the military and legal institutions over his bid to change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term in November elections.
Elected to a non-renewable four-year term in 2005, Zelaya had planned a vote Sunday asking Hondurans to sanction a referendum on changing the constitution.
But the referendum had been ruled illegal by Honduras’s top court and was opposed by the military.
Latin America rallies behind Zelaya
Leftwing Latin American leaders who met in Nicaragua Monday have backed Zelaya and said they were recalling its ambassadors to Honduras in protest at his removal.
“In the face of the dictatorial government that intends to be imposed, the countries of ALBA have decided to withdraw our ambassadors and to leave minimal diplomatic representation in Tegucigalpa,” said a statement issued after talks in Nicaragua.
ALBA – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas — was founded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2004 and also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua and the Caribbean island of Dominica.
Rest of world calls for reinstatement
Russia and Canada also joined a growing list of nations to condemn the coup, and the European Commission called an urgent meeting with Central American ambassadors to consider the future of trade talks.
The United Nations held emergency talks Monday on the crisis, and Zelaya was said to be likely to address the UN General Assembly Tuesday.
Chavez said the international community should teach the Honduran government “a lesson” after throwing his weight behind Zelaya. And Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said leaders were determined to avoid “bloodshed.”
But in Honduras, Micheletti brushed off international condemnation of the takeover.
He said he “had come to the presidency not by a coup d’etat but by a completely legal process as set out in our laws.”
The interim leader also warned Chavez his country was ready to “go to war” if there was interference by “this gentleman.”
Micheletti said he had information that several battalions of troops were being prepared outside of Honduras for intervention.
Zelaya, who was elected as a conservative, has shifted dramatically to the left during his presidency.
He is the latest in a string of Latin American leaders, including Chavez, to seek constitutional changes to expand presidential powers and also ease term limits.