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Honduras coup leader stays defiant as pressure mounts

HONDURAS' newly appointed leader vowed yesterday to resist pressure from across the Americas to reinstate the president ousted in a military coup.

Leaders from Hugo Chavez to Barack Obama called for the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya, who was arrested in his pajamas on Sunday morning by soldiers who stormed his residence and flew him into exile.

Roberto Micheletti, appointed president by Congress, insisted that Zelaya was legally removed by the courts and Congress for violating Honduras' constitution - allegedly to extend his rule.

Zelaya's ouster was Central America's first coup in at least 16 years, a blow from the barracks that reminded many of the military dictatorships the region has tried to bury in its past.

Latin American leaders gathered in Nicaragua to draft a response, with all eyes on Venezuelan President Chavez, who said he would "overthrow" Micheletti.

Micheletti shrugged scorned Chavez, telling HRN radio: "Nobody scares us."

Micheletti acknowledged that he had not spoken to any Latin American heads of state but said: "I'm sure that 80 to 90 percent of the Honduran population is happy with what happened."

The Obama administration denounced the coup and United States officials said they were working for Zelaya's return. European Union officials offered to mediate talks between the two sides.

The Organization of American States called for Zelaya's return and summoned a meeting of foreign ministers today that could make Honduras the first nation suspended from the organization under a 2001 charter banning "the unconstitutional interruption of democratic order."

Chavez cast the dispute as a bid by a wealthy elite to suppress the poor. "If the oligarchies break the rules of the game as they have done, the people have the right to resistance and combat, and we are with them," Chavez said in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

Conservative Latin American governments also denounced the takeover. Mexico announced it was giving diplomatic protection to Zelaya's foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, who fled to Mexico City.

Zelaya was arrested and flown to Costa Rica hours before a rogue referendum he had called in defiance of Honduras' courts and Congress.

His opponents claimed the vote was an attempt to remain in power after his term ends on January 27, a move likened to Chavez's efforts in Venezuela.

Micheletti said he would serve only until the end of Zelaya's term.


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