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Honduras supreme court reinstates military chief

world Updated: Jun 26, 2009 11:17 IST
Noe Leiva
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Honduran President Manuel Zelaya vowed again on Thursday to defy the country’s courts and congress that brand as “illegal” his planned constitutional reforms.

The Honduran Supreme Court also unanimously voted to reinstate the country’s military chief, a day after Zelaya sacked General Romeo Vasquez.

The vote came after an appeal from the state prosecutor, said Judge Teodolinda Cruz Sequeira.

The sacking, prosecutor Mauricio Aceituno told journalists, “violated constitutional guarantees.”

An emergency meeting of Congress meanwhile “disapproved” of the move.

The attempt by Zelaya, a leftist, to hold a referendum on changing the constitution has angered the country’s top courts, the attorney general, military leaders and even his own party.

Zelaya wants to hold a referendum on Sunday to ask Hondurans if they approve of holding a vote on constitutional change in tandem with general elections in November -- a move that has been ruled illegal by the country’s top court.

“The consultation does not stop on Sunday,” said a defiant Zelaya, who in an open challenge to his detractors, forced entry of a military base to remove electoral material.

Accompanied by hundreds of supporters who broke down the entrance gates, Zelaya penetrated the Acosta Mejia air force base at the international airport of the capital Tegucigalpa.

The president helped load the ballot boxes, which had been flown in from Venezuela, aboard trucks, before stone-faced military officials. The ballot boxes were being taken to the presidential residence, the only place, Zelaya said, where they could be safeguarded.

Countries belonging to the leftist Latin American trade group ALBA condemned at the United Nations what they called a coup attempt against Zelaya.

“We denounce in front of the international community a coup under way against comrade Jose Manuel Zelaya, the constitutional president of Honduras,” the group said in a statement.

They stressed that “the coup under way aims to thwart the democratic referendum called to determine whether the people backs the convening of a constitutional assembly.”

The president sacked Vasquez late Wednesday, and also accepted the resignation of Defense 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 military chiefs had refused to distribute the ballot boxes ahead of Zelaya’s proposed referendum.

Hundreds of troops deployed early Thursday in the capital Tegucigalpa in a bid to avoid possible disturbances, before returning to their barracks, an army spokesman said. Calm returned to the capital in the evening.

Zelaya is the latest of a string of Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to seek constitutional changes to expand presidential powers and also ease term limits.

His four-year term ends in January, and current law prevents him from seeking re-election.