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Tense Honduras moves to block return of ousted leader

world Updated: Jul 05, 2009 22:45 IST

Coup leaders in Honduras vowed on Sunday they will prevent a plane carrying deposed President Manuel Zelaya from landing, thwarting his attempt to reclaim the presidency one week after his ouster.

Amid growing tension in anticipation of Zelaya's expected arrival, soldiers surrounded the capital's main airport, where airlines had suspended flights, while thousands of his supporters prepared to gather there.

The Organisation of American States suspended the Central American country late Saturday, in the first such move since the exclusion of Cuba in 1962, for failing to reinstate Zelaya.

Thirty-three out of 34 members of the OAS voted in favor of suspending Honduras in an extraordinary late night session.

"The de facto authorities in Tegucigalpa are not disposed to restore Zelaya," OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza told the assembly.

Members of the pan-American body slammed the leaders of the coup which saw the army remove Zelaya in his pajamas last Sunday at the peak of a dispute with the courts, politicians and the army over his plans to change the constitution.

"I am very optimistic because everyone has repudiated and rejected these acts" Zelaya said in Washington, insisting his country lived "under a regime of terror."

But the interim leaders remained defiant on Sunday.

"The landing of the plane which will bring the ex-president is banned," foreign minister Enrique Ortez said ahead of Zelaya's planned arrival at around midday.

"It doesn't matter who accompanies him, what the plane is, the landing is prohibited," Ortez said.
Zelaya has said he will be accompanied by a handful of Latin American leaders and other personalities.

After a week of mostly peaceful protests by Zelaya's supporters and detractors, thousands of Zelaya backers -- many from labor unions and indigenous groups -- gathered in the capital.

In a climate of suspicion and anger, many said they were prepared for violence on Zelaya's return.

"I imagine there'll be blood and I'm ready for it. We're not afraid," said Marisol Velasquez, who said she was roughed up by soldiers at road blocks on her three-day journey to reach the capital.
Catholic leaders in Honduras warned Saturday of potential violence and pleaded for Zelaya to reconsider.

"We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a blood bath," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez -- the capital's archbishop -- said on national radio and television.
Insulza agreed that Zelaya's planned return to Honduras was risky.

"If you ask if it is a safe return, of course not," the OAS chief told reporters.
Some clashes have broken out between the army and protesters in the past week of daily protests by both supporters and detractors of Zelaya.

It was unclear exactly how many people had been injured and detained, amid growing indignation from international rights groups.