Ousted Honduran Leader May Face Arrest On Return

New government says coup needed to protect constitution

By WILL WEISSERT and FREDDY CUEVAS
|  Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009  |  Updated 10:34 AM CDT
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Turmoil in Honduras

AFP/Getty Images

President of the Honduran National Congress and newly sworn-in Honduran head of state, Roberto Micheletti (C), speaks to members of the press while holding a copy of the Honduran consitution following a coup d'etat that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted in Tegucigalpa on June 28, 2009. The Honduran National Congress assigned Micheletti as head of state, having taken the decision unanimousily due to Zelaya's "irregular conduct" and "repeated violations to the Constitution". Zelaya insisted from exile in Costa Rica that he remains the rightful leader of Honduras, after being deposed by his country's military. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras' ousted president, bolstered by international support, said he will return home this week to regain control, but the man who replaced him said Manuel Zelaya will be arrested if he comes back.

The military coup on Sunday provoked nearly universal condemnation from governments of the Western Hemisphere, from President Barack Obama to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and it sparked clashes in the Honduran capital that have left dozens of people injured.

Flanked by Latin American leaders who have vowed to help him regain power, Manuel Zelaya said late Monday that Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had agreed to accompany him back to Honduras.

But the man named by Honduras' Congress as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, indicated Tuesday that Zelaya would risk arrest if he returns because "the courts of my country have issued arrest orders" against him.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who has forged close ties with Chavez, said he wanted to return to Tegucigalpa on Thursday after attending a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to seek support from its 192 member nations.

"I want the support of whoever thinks I have the right to finish my presidency," Zelaya said at a late night news conference in Nicaragua, where he earlier received a standing ovation during a meeting of Latin American leaders.

Just as significant was the support of the U.S. president.

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there," Obama said in Washington. "It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

Micheletti, speaking to Colombia's Caracol Radio, insisted that it was Zelaya who had violated the constitution and that his court-ordered removal was legal.

"We have not committed a coup d'etat, but a constitutional succession," he said.

Micheletti vowed to ignore foreign pressure and began naming Cabinet members, including a new minister of defense.

Zelaya alienated the courts, Congress, the military and even his own party in his tumultuous three years in power but maintains the support of many of Honduras' poor.

It was the first military ouster of a Central American president since 1993, when Guatemalan military officials refused to accept President Jorge Serrano's attempt to seize absolute power and removed him. They turned over power to a civilian within days.

Honduras had not seen a coup since 1978, when one military government overthrew another.

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