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CAM: Honduras president in exile, new leader orders curfew

29 Jun 2009 3:51 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, June 28 AFP - The newly appointed leader of Honduras Roberto Micheletti ordered a 48-hour curfew late on Sunday after denying there had been a coup d'etat on deposed President Manuel Zelaya.

At dawn troops had roused Zelaya in his pajamas and flew him out of the country, ending a bitter power struggle with the military as parliament swiftly voted in a new leader.

Zelaya insisted when he arrived in regional neighbour Costa Rica that he remained the president of his Central American nation, but just hours later the Congress voted in the parliamentary speaker as the country's new leader.

"A curfew begins today and ends on Tuesday," Micheletti said at his first press conference, as worldwide condemnation for the action, led by the United States, continued.

"We recognise Zelaya as the duly elected and constitutional president of Honduras. We see no other," a top US State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Micheletti, a member of Zelaya's own Liberal Party, maintained however after being sworn in by Congress that he "came to the presidency not by a coup d'etat but by a completely legal process as set out in our laws".

The first such major upheaval in several decades in the impoverished country was triggered by a tense political standoff between Zelaya and the country's military and legal institutions over his bid to secure a second term.

"I will never give up since I was elected the president by the people," Zelaya said from San Jose, accusing Honduran troops of kidnapping him and denouncing what he called a "political conspiracy."

But Congress said it voted unanimously to remove him from office for his "apparent misconduct" and for "repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions".

Micheletti was appointed to serve out the rest of the term, which ends in January. New general elections are planned for November 29.

Zelaya, elected to a non-renewable four-year term in 2005, had planned a vote on Sunday asking Hondurans to sanction a future referendum to allow him to run for re-election in the November polls.

The planned referendum had been ruled illegal by the country's top court and was opposed by the military, but the president said he planned to press ahead with it anyway and ballot boxes had already been distributed.

The Supreme Court said on Sunday that it had ordered the president's ouster in order to protect law and order in the nation of some seven million people.

The drama unfolded at dawn on Sunday when some 200 troops swooped on Zelaya's home.

He was bundled away in his pyjamas and flown out of the country.

A leading government official, Armando Sarmiento, told AFP that at least eight cabinet members were also detained, including Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas.

As planes and helicopters overflew the capital, several hundred Zelaya supporters ignored warnings to stay home and flooded onto the streets of Tegucigalpa shouting out, "We want Mel," the president's nickname.

But the demonstration was halted in front of the presidential palace when the way was barred by a cordon of troops and armoured vehicles.

US President Barack Obama said he was deeply concerned about the events in Honduras, as US officials said they recognised Zelaya as the country's legitimate president.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he wanted Zelaya to be reinstated and human rights in the country to be fully respected.

Last week Zelaya sacked the country's top military chief, General Romeo Vasquez and also accepted the resignation of Defence Minister Edmundo Orellana, after military commanders refused to distribute ballot boxes for Sunday's vote.

The heads of the army, marines and air force also resigned.

The Honduran Supreme Court then unanimously voted on Thursday to reinstate Vasquez and hundreds of troops massed late last week in the capital Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya, who was elected as a conservative, has shifted dramatically to the left during his presidency.

He is the latest in a long list of Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to seek constitutional changes to expand presidential powers and ease term limits.

Chavez also denounced Sunday's arrest as a "coup d'etat" and alleged that the United States had a hand in Zelaya's overthrow.

And he warned that if Venezuela's envoys to Honduras were harmed he would be prepared to intervene militarily.