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Honduras: Political Crisis


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(CNN) -- A political crisis in Honduras escalated Thursday as a defiant President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, followed by hundreds of supporters, led a loud but peaceful protest to a military base in order to personally take possession of thousands of ballots to be used in a contested referendum Sunday.

President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, middle, reviews troops with Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, right, in 2008.


President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, middle, reviews troops with Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, right, in 2008.


Zelaya, a leftist elected in 2005, suddenly found himself pitted against the other branches of government and military leaders over the issue of the referendum.


The referendum at the center of the storm asks voters to place a measure on November's ballot that would allow the formation of a constitutional assembly that could modify the nation's charter to allow the president to run for another term.


Zelaya, whose four-year term ends in January 2010, cannot run for re-election.


The Hondurans Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal, and Congress and the top military brass agreed, but Zelaya remained steadfast.


"Sunday's referendum will not be stopped," Zelaya said at the entrance of the military base where boxes of ballots were removed from storage and put into trucks to be taken to the presidential palace. Moving the ballots prevented them from being voided or destroyed to comply with the court's ruling of the illegality of the vote.


Zelaya and his supporters braved an overcast and rainy day and sang the national anthem as the cardboard boxes filled with ballots were moved out of storage.


"We have the right to vote and the right to organize," Zelaya said. "The military should rectify their position in favor of the people and ignore the extortion of the elite."


The protest was the latest in a day of developments that have created a political crisis in a country where some 70 percent of the population lives in poverty.


Earlier Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered that the military's top commander be returned to his job immediately, a little more than 12 hours after Zelaya fired the general for saying the armed forces would not support the referendum.


Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez had said the military was caught in a difficult position because the Supreme Court had ruled earlier that the referendum is illegal, but Zelaya was going ahead with the vote and instructed the armed forces to provide security.


The heads of the army, navy and air force had resigned to show their support for Vasquez.


Zelaya referred to the court as the "Supreme Court of Injustice" after their ruling.


The court ruled 5-0 that Zelaya violated the general's constitutional rights by firing him without cause, said magistrate Rosalina Cruz.


Also on Thursday, the National Congress convened an emergency session at which many members lauded Vasquez and the military, calling them "heroes."


The general's firing was arbitrary, many members said.


The president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, said the assembly unconditionally supports the armed forces for respecting the constitution, news reports said.


In another blow for Zelaya, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said Thursday the referendum is illegal.


The military chief had said after he was fired that he respected the president's decision to dismiss him but could not violate a Supreme Court order last week that prohibited the military from supporting the referendum.


"We are soldiers and we have to comply with our responsibilities," Vasquez said early Thursday.


"We are not afraid of any judge," he said. "We are only afraid of the judge of history."


Zelaya said he would ask the Organization of American States to investigate the "crisis," which he said was being perpetrated by people who want to hurt democracy in Honduras.


Congress passed a law Tuesday night that would prohibit a referendum 180 days before or after the planned November general election. Under that law, Sunday's referendum could not be held.


Politicians huddled Thursday as tension gripped the nation. Rumors of a coup had been circulating for days, heightened Wednesday when the armed forces were placed on high alert and held training exercises to prepare for civil disturbances and urban warfare, news reports said.


There were no signs of any military intervention Thursday, though.


David Matamoros, a member of the nation's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, said on CNN affiliate Televicentro that the election panel supports the military's action.


The military ruled Honduras for 25 years, until a democratically elected civilian government came to power in 1982.



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This is getting worse... we have no idea of what is going to happen, not even people in Honduras know, there's no TV or radio signal, there are a few radio stations and TV channels working but there's only random that has NOTHING to do with what's actually happening at the moment in there, they only have internet and not everybody has access to internet.




Honduran police, demonstrators clash as nation holds fragile peace




(CNN) -- Honduran police fired tear gas at demonstrators but the nation remained generally calm Monday, one day after military troops removed President Jose Manuel Zelaya and sent him into exile.

Zelaya supporters burn tires Monday near the presidential palace in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.


Zelaya supporters burn tires Monday near the presidential palace in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

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The Telesur TV network showed military troops advancing on some streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and blue-helmeted police clashing with noisy demonstrators. Other images showed troops, tanks and other military assets deployed around the presidential grounds.


The station, a conglomerate formed by several Latin American governments and partially funded by the pro-Zelaya Venezuelan government, also aired images of demonstrators setting fires on streets and black smoke rising into the air.


The military deposed Zelaya early Sunday and flew him to Costa Rica. Roberto Micheletti, president of the Congress, was named provisional president.


Zelaya had been at odds with the other branches of government over a referendum he wanted to hold Sunday. The nation's Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal and Congress had voted not to hold it.


The Supreme Court also overturned Zelaya's dismissal of Honduras' top general, who said the military would not participate in the referendum. The court ordered the general be reinstated immediately. Video Watch what Obama has to say about the coup »


Zelaya disregarded those actions and vowed to hold the vote Sunday anyway.


The court said after the coup that it authorized the military action.


The new government declared an indefinite curfew and shut down media sources.


Zelaya supporters called for a general strike, Telesur said.


CNN en Español correspondent Krupskaia Alis, who witnessed Monday's protests, said the demonstrators numbered in the hundreds.


The head of the Organization of American States condemned the coup, and the United Nations General Assembly scheduled a noon session Monday to discuss the issue.


"My country has lost its democratic form of government," said Jorge Arturo Reina, Honduras' ambassador to the U.N.


General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann expressed his "outrage," saying, "We must make certain that this act of infamy in Honduras ... ends in absolute failure."


The United States and most Latin American nations have condemned the coup, the first in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.


OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said nations must maintain pressure on Honduras.


"We should not accept that government under any circumstances," Insulza said in an interview on Telesur. iReport.com: Are you there? Share your photos, videos


The new government must be isolated diplomatically and politically, he said.


"Invade Honduras? No. That's not going to occur," Insulza said.


Zelaya arrived in Nicaragua on Monday for a special meeting of the leftist group ALBA, the Spanish acronym for Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas. He was joined by other leftist leaders, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of host nation Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.


"If we don't do something for ourselves, who will?" Zelaya said at the meeting's conclusion. "The defense of the people is always in our hands."


ALBA, founded by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004 to counter U.S. influence in Latin America, said member nations would withdraw ambassadors and top diplomats from Honduras until Zelaya is restored to power.


Despite widespread condemnation of the coup, analysts see plenty of blame to go around -- and no easy solution. Video Watch details on "curious situation" in Honduras »


"There are no heroes in this story," said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "These people are caricatures of rectitude rather than examples of it."


The Honduran Supreme Court, he said, is "one of the most corrupt institutions in Latin America."


And Zelaya overplayed his hand, Birns and others said.


"Zelaya was part of the problem," said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue policy institute.


"He's partly responsible for what happened. He was pushing too hard on a very fragile political institution. He was just plowing ahead against the wishes of every political institution, including his own political party."


Zelaya's removal also raises larger issues for many fragile Latin American democracies.


"What happens when the Supreme Court decides against the president and the president ignores it? Who enforces it?" asked Robert Pastor, a Latin America national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.


What happens next is clearly unknown.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that an OAS delegation would travel to Honduras as early as Tuesday to begin working on restoring a constitutional government.


That might not be an easy task.


"According to mainstream Honduran media sources, Zelaya's removal has the widespread support of the political and business elite and the military, and it appears doubtful that he will be able to return to power," said Heather Berkman, an analyst with the Eurasia Group consulting firm.


"An exit strategy is needed," Birns said. "But it's going to be extremely difficult to come out with an exit strategy unless they get consent of key players like the national legislature."


Pastor holds out some hope.



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