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Ousted Honduran president stays in embassy

Deposed President Manuel Zelaya remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, saying he feared for his life as heavily armed soldiers march outside and helicopters buzz overhead.
Image: Honduras, riots
Police uses water cannons against supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya during clashes near the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. Fernando Antonio / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Baton-wielding soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands who demonstrated outside the Brazilian embassy, leaving deposed President Manuel Zelaya and 70 friends and family trapped inside without water, electricity or phones.

"We know we are in danger," Zelaya said during interviews with various media outlets on Tuesday. "We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice."

Heavily armed soldiers stood guard on neighboring rooftops and helicopters buzzed overhead.

Zelaya, forced out of his country at gunpoint, triumphantly popped up in the capital on Monday, telling supporters that after three months of international exile and a secretive 15-hour cross country journey, he was ready to lead again.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti's response was terse: Initially he said Zelaya was lying about being there, and then — after Zelaya appeared on national television — Micheletti pressed Brazil to hand Zelaya over so he could be arrested under a warrant issued by the Supreme Court charging treason and abuse of authority.

No haven at embassy?
Some officials suggested even the embassy would be no haven.

"The inviolability of a diplomatic mission does not imply the protection of delinquents or fugitives from justice," said Micheletti's foreign ministry adviser, Mario Fortinthe.

Police and soldiers set up a ring of security in a three-mile (five-kilometer) perimeter around the Brazilian embassy.

Security Ministry spokesman Orlin Cerrato told The Associated Press that two policemen had been beaten and 174 people were being held on charges of disorderly conduct and vandalism.

A doctor interviewed by Radio Globo reported that 18 people had been treated at the public hospital for injuries.

A 26-hour curfew imposed Monday afternoon closed businesses and schools, leaving the capital's streets nearly deserted. All the nation's international airports and border posts were closed and roadblocks set up to keep Zelaya supporters from massing for protests.

Tuesday evening the government announced the curfew was being extended 12 more hours, until 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Micheletti repeated his insistence that there had never been a coup — just a "constitutional succession" ordered by the courts and approved by Congress.

"Coups do not allow freedom of assembly," he wrote in a column published Tuesday in The Washington Post. "They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant."

Airports, borders closed
Meanwhile Micheletti closed airports and borders, and baton-wielding police fired tear gas to chase thousands of demonstrators away from the embassy where Zelaya's supporters had gathered.

Some gas canisters fell inside the walls of the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya, his wife, some of their children, Cabinet members, journalists, about 70 people in all, kept a tense watch on police and soldiers who patrolled from neighboring rooftops. Some napped on couches, others curled up on the floor beneath travel posters of Brazilian beaches.

Zelaya said he had no plans to leave and he repeatedly asked to speak with Micheletti.

Those negotiations have yet to begin, and with his embassy the current hotspot for the Honduran crisis, Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Zelaya and pressed him not to do anything that might provoke an invasion of the diplomatic mission.

Embassy staff were told to stay home, and embassy charge d'affaires Francisco Catunda Resende said water, phone and electricity services had been cut, leaving the mission with a diesel powered generator, according to a spokesman with Brazil's Foreign Ministry who did not give his name in keeping with policy.

U.N. truck brings food
A U.N. truck showed up at the embassy with hot dogs to feed Zelaya supporters and Brazilian staffers — the only food U.N. workers could find in a city where nearly every business was closed.

"We brought what we could find," said U.N. worker Pedro Dimaggio.

Zelaya supporter Loliveth Andino stood alone outside an army barricade near the embassy and voiced hope that Zelaya could return to the presidency.

"He was the one who made sure our rights were respected and our voices were heard," Andino said.

Diplomats around the world, from the European Union to the U.S. State Department, were urging calm while repeating their recognition of Zelaya as Honduras' legitimate president.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, who is trying to convince Micheletti to step down and return Zelaya to power, said he was "very concerned" that the situation could turn violent.

"It's a hostile situation and I hope the de facto government fulfills its obligation to respect this diplomatic seat," said Jose Miguel Insulza.

Lobbying for support
Zelaya apparently timed his surprise arrival in Honduras' capital to coincide with world leaders gathering this week at the United Nations in New York, putting renewed international pressure on the interim government, which has already shrugged aside sharp foreign aid cuts and diplomatic denunciations since the coup.

Zelaya was removed in June after he repeatedly ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on reforming the constitution. His opponents claimed he wanted to end a constitutional ban on re-election — a charge Zelaya denied.

The Supreme Court ordered his arrest, and the Honduran Congress, alarmed by his increasingly close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, backed the army as it forced him into exile in Costa Rica.

Since his ouster, Zelaya has traveled around the region to lobby for support from political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

U.S.-backed talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled over the interim government's refusal to accept Zelaya's reinstatement to the presidency. Arias' proposal would limit Zelaya's powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution.

Zelaya's foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, said in New York on Tuesday that Zelaya is still willing to sign the plan proposed by Arias.

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