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Ousted Honduran leader Zelaya returns home

world Updated: Jul 25, 2009 16:22 IST
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Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya risked arrest Friday, crossing the Nicaraguan-Honduran border in an effort to reclaim power after mediation efforts failed to resolve the Central American country's political standoff.

Deposed and expelled by the military June 28, Zelaya insisted on returning to Honduras after mediation efforts failed to achieve his restoration. But shortly after crossing the border, Zelaya retreated back to the Nicaraguan side.

He had called on supporters to meet him at the border and escort him to the capital, even as the de facto government in Tegucigalpa threatened to arrest Zelaya if he stepped onto Honduran soil.

Zelaya walked toward the border surrounded by a scrum of reporters and supporters, talking at times simultaneously on two cellphones, televised images showed. He then stepped under a chain marking the international frontier.

He demanded to speak with military leaders before stepping back into Nicaragua.

Zelaya supporters and security forces clashed earlier on the Honduran side of the border, where military and police had erected barricades to keep out Zelaya. Several people were injured in the confrontation.

Zelaya's first attempt to fly July 5 into Honduras was thwarted after the military blocked the runway and wouldn't allow his plane to land.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, installed after Zelaya's removal, had ordered an overnight curfew along the border and positioned security forces at crossings to keep out Zelaya. Officials have said they could not guarantee his safety.

In Washington, the Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza warned Zelaya against escalating the conflict by attempting to cross the border.

Zelaya was accompanied on his journey toward the border by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and former Nicaraguan revolutionary Eden Pastora. His convoy stopped just short of the crossing.

Renewed mediation failed Wednesday to reach a deal after Zelaya's delegation declared that the talks had failed, after rejecting a plan put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

The US has supported Zelaya's restoration but blasted his actions Friday at the border.

"President Zelaya's effort to reach the border is reckless," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington.

"It does not contribute to the broader efforts to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis. So we urge President Zelaya and all other parties to reaffirm their commitment to a negotiated peaceful solution, to the integrity of Honduran democracy and the safety and well-being of the Honduran people."

Zelaya was planning to come to Washington Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday, but did not provide details of what he would do in the US capital, which is also the headquarters of the OAS.

Arias had suggested returning Zelaya to power under a reconciliation government but moving forward planned presidential elections from November to October. Zelaya is not currently eligible to run for re-election.

Zelaya was deposed last month by the Honduran Supreme Court, military and Congress, which charged he had been plotting to hold a national referendum that would have supported his bid for additional terms in office. Zelaya was seized in the middle of the night by Honduran troops and - still dressed in pajamas - taken by force to Costa Rica.

The OAS has suspended Honduras' membership until Zelaya, the democratically elected president, is restored to office.

Micheletti, who was first in the line of succession as speaker of the Honduran Congress, was elevated to head the post-coup government. Governments across the region have spurned relations with the Micheletti regime, citing the illegal use of the military in Zelaya's ouster instead of a constitutional removal process.