Honduras' exiled president took off for home in a Venezuelan jet in a high-stakes attempt to return to power, even as the interim government told its military to turn away the plane.
Zelaya won wide international support after his ouster a week ago by the military, but the only prominent escort aboard his plane was the U.N. General Assembly president after Latin American leaders backed out, citing security concerns. Honduras' civil aviation director said Zelaya's plane was being redirected to El Salvador.
Several other planes carrying Latin American presidents, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and journalists were leaving Washington separately, trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land.
Thousands of protesters descended on the airport in the Honduran capital in anticipation of the showdown. Police helicopters hovered overhead. Commercial flights were canceled, and outside the airport about 200 soldiers with riot shields formed a line in front of the protesters.
''The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has ordered the armed forces and the police not to allow the entrance of any plane bringing the former leader,'' the foreign minister of the interim government, Enrique Ortez, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Flying with Zelaya were close advisers and staff, two journalists from the Venezuela-based network Telesur, and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and former foreign minister who personally condemned Zelaya's ouster as a coup d'etat.
Speaking live from the plane through Telesur, Zelaya called on the Honduran military to leave the airport free for him to land.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
BREAKING: Exiled President Zelaya en route to Honduras
At or around 3:50 pm EST today, President Zelaya boarded a Venezuelan jet bound for Tegucigalpa. The Honduran capital appears to be in an extremely volatile state as an apparent showdown draws near; I worry that innocent, unarmed people are going to be hurt and killed, simply for protesting. I suppose it's naïve of me to hope that all this goes productively and without incident, but here's wishing for that, nonetheless:
Posted by Deborah Newell at 4:37 PM