Deposed Honduras leader makes surprise return

(AFP) – 21 hours ago

TEGUCIGALPA — Deposed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya on Monday made a surprise return to the Central American nation almost three months after soldiers expelled him at gunpoint.

A smiling Zelaya, sporting his trademark cowboy hat, appeared back in the capital on the balcony of the Brazilian embassy in the first images broadcast on local television.

Thousands of his supporters took to the streets of a tense Tegucigalpa on hearing of his return, while the interim leaders who sent him away at first denied he was back.

Shortly afterwards, they imposed a 15-hour curfew, starting at 4:00 pm (2200 GMT) Monday.

The military sent Zelaya away in his pajamas on June 28, backed by the country's courts and parliament, at the height of a tense political standoff over his plans to change the constitution.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said his country had played no role in Zelaya's return, but that it had simply accepted his demand for asylum in its embassy.

"We hope this will open a new stage in the discussions and a rapid solution," Amorim told a news conference in New York.

The Organization of American States (OAS) -- a pan-American body which suspended Honduras after the coup -- held an emergency session Monday to tackle the new twist in the crisis.

Many feared further violence following clashes between the army and Zelaya supporters during his two previous attempts to return, in which several people died.

"I want to call for calm from the actors in this process, to signal to the de facto government that they have to be responsible for the security of President Zelaya and the Brazilian embassy," said OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza in a statement.

Insulza said that he was ready to travel to Honduras as soon as possible, probably on Tuesday.

Zelaya revealed few details of his land journey of more than 15 hours to sneak back into the impoverished nation where he faces arrest from those who ousted him.

Zelaya said his return from exile in Nicaragua was part of a "peaceful strategy," following failed Costa Rica-led talks to resolve the crisis, in comments to CNN's Spanish-language news channel.

"We're hoping for international cooperation so that Honduras returns to calm," said Zelaya, who is due to speak before the United Nations general assembly in New York on Wednesday.

The United States, the European Union and Latin American countries took measures to isolate Honduras after the coup, including aid freezes, and still consider Zelaya to be the country's legitimate president.

Interim leader Roberto Micheletti appeared to be caught off-guard as he told a news conference that Zelaya had not left neighboring Nicaragua.

"It's not true. He (Zelaya) is in a hotel suite in Nicaragua," Micheletti said.

Micheletti has said he will step aside after presidential elections are held as scheduled on November 29.

The internationally-backed mediation bid failed after the interim leaders refused to accept Zelaya's return to power as part of a unity government. ... 6fGg1x8Dmw