Ousted president back in Honduras

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The Independent US

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya sneaked back into Honduras yesterday almost three months after he was toppled in a coup, and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy to avoid arrest by the de facto government.

Zelaya's ousting on June 28 in a dispute over presidential term limits plunged Honduras into its worst political conflict in decades, and was condemned by US President Barack Obama, the European Union and Latin American governments.

Zelaya had been in exile mostly in Nicaragua while a de facto government that backed the coup against him became more entrenched in office, defying international calls to allow the leftist president to return.

But his sudden appearance in Honduras increased pressure on the country's ruler Roberto Micheletti to cede power and increased the chance of violent protests or a standoff at the embassy.

"I am the legitimate president chosen by the people and that is why I came here," Zelaya told Reuters by telephone from inside the Brazilian embassy.

Zelaya told reporters he had braved many obstacles, crossing over mountains and through valleys to avoid military checkpoints. He did not reveal which country he arrived in Honduras from.

"I was traveling for around 15 hours using different routes and different methods of transport to arrive here and call for dialogue, which is my role as the elected president of Honduras," Zelaya told Reuters by telephone from inside the Brazilian embassy.

Several thousand Zelaya supporters gathered outside while a military helicopter clattered overhead and a small group of police stood some 100 yards away.

The United States called for restraint in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and a staunch US ally during Cold War conflicts in Central America.

Micheletti, a conservative, wants Zelaya arrested on charges of corruption and trying to change the constitution, but the president was defiant.

"I still haven't known fear in my 57 years," he said.

Soldiers toppled Zelaya at gunpoint and sent him into exile in his pajamas after he upset Congress, the military and conservative opponents, who accused him of wanting to change the constitution to allow presidents to seek reelection. Honduran business leaders also distrusted his alliance with Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez.

Zelaya was due to leave office in January after elections in November but denied he was seeking to extend his rule.