Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya said he was getting on a flight home to reclaim his post today, accompanied by the UN General Assembly president and a group of journalists.
The interim government said it ordered the military to prevent the landing of Zelaya's plane. If turned away, it will likely land in El Salvador, where a separate flight was headed with Latin American leaders who support Zelaya's reinstatement.
Thousands of protesters were gathering in the capital of Honduras in anticipation of Zelaya's showdown against the interim government in power since the army ousted him.
Police helicopters hovered over the main Tegucigalpa airport, where soldiers outnumbered travelers and commercial flights were canceled. Access roads were cut off by police checkpoints, with soldiers standing guard alongside.
"The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has order 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.
In Washington, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says the safety of Zelaya's flight could not be guaranteed. Correa said he would fly with the presidents of Argentina and Paraguay and the secretary-general of the Organization of American States on Tango One, the Argentine presidential plane, to the Salvadoran capital.
The country's new government has vowed to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling, Zelaya had also pressed ahead with a referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution, and critics feared he would press to extend his rule.
But by sending soldiers to shoot up the presidential residence and fly Zelaya into exile a week ago, the Micheletti government has brought itself universal condemnations from the United Nations and OAS.
No nation has recognized the new government; President Barack Obama has united with conservative Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and leftist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in criticism.
The OAS had given the Honduran government until Saturday to reinstate Zelaya, and sent two emergency missions to Honduras in hopes of heading off an escalation. But Micheletti pointedly rejected the group's demands.
The poor Central American country's Roman Catholic archbishop and its human right commissioner urged Zelaya to stay away, warning that his return could spark bloodshed. The interim government said it would arrest Zelaya and put him on trial despite near-universal international condemnation of the coup that removed him as he campaigned to revise the constitution.
In Washington, the Organization of American States suspended Honduras as a member late Saturday. Micheletti preemptively pulled out of the OAS hours earlier rather than comply with an ultimatum that Zelaya be restored.
Zelaya has urged loyalists to support his arrival in Honduras in a peaceful show of force.
"We are going to show up at the Honduras International Airport in Tegucigalpa ... and on Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa," Zelaya said Saturday in the taped statement carried on the Web sites of the Telesur and Cubadebate media outlets. "Practice what I have always preached, which is nonviolence."
Zelaya supporters gathered Sunday morning at a university on the south side of the capital and planned to march to the airport a few miles away.
"We have no pistols or arms, just our principles," said Rafael Alegria, a prominent pro-Zelaya protest organizer. "We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya."
Large crowds of Zelaya's critics have staged their own daily demonstrations to back Micheletti, the congressional president who was named by lawmakers to finish out the final six months of the Zelaya's term.
Most of the ousted leader's supporters come from the working and middle classes of this impoverished nation, while his opponents are based in the ranks of the well-to-do — although the increasingly leftist approach of the wealthy rancher had eroded his popular support.Reuse content