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Ousted Honduran president fails in bid to return

OUSTED President Manuel Zelaya was blocked from his attempt to fly home to Honduras yesterday and at least one person was killed as soldiers clashed with his supporters at the airport in the capital city.
Authorities refused permission for Zelaya's plane to land in Tegucigalpa and he flew on first to neighboring Nicaragua and then on to El Salvador where a group of leftist presidents were gathered to back him.
Zelaya, a leftist whose term was due to end next year, was pushed out of office by the military and sent into exile a week ago after a dispute over presidential term limits.
At least one person was killed in clashes with soldiers after thousands of pro-Zelaya supporters rallied at Tegucigalpa airport, where they broke through fencing near the runway to face a barrage of tear gas, Reuters witnesses and emergency service officials said.
Two people were badly wounded.
"They will never be able to govern Honduras, they should know that," Zelaya told Telesur television channel as his small, private jet was turned away from Tegucigalpa after trying to fly in from Washington. "A new tyranny has been born in Central America."
Zelaya's ouster has tested regional diplomacy and raised a challenge for the Obama administration in Latin America, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is promoting socialist revolution to counter U.S. influence.
The Organization of American States earlier yesterday suspended Honduras for refusing to reinstate Zelaya, the strongest move yet by foreign governments to isolate the country after Central America's first coup since the Cold War.
A senior U.S. official described the situation in Honduras, an impoverished coffee and textile exporter with a population of 7 million, as "very fluid and challenging."
Honduras' interim government refused Zelaya permission to enter the country and warned he would be arrested if he did come back. But the prospect of his return stirred his supporters. Hundreds of troops had fanned out around the runway to protect the airport.
Leftist allies of Zelaya, including the presidents of Ecuador, Paraguay and Argentina, flew to El Salvador yesterday to support Zelaya from nearby.
Underscoring regional tensions stoked by the coup, Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti said small groups of Nicaraguan troops were moving near their mutual border, although they had not crossed it.
He urged Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a leftist ally of Zelaya, to respect Honduran sovereignty. Ortega, whose country shares a border with Honduras to the south of the Honduran capital, called the charge "totally false."
The interim government, installed hours after the coup, argues the removal of Zelaya was justified by what it views as his illegal attempts to extend presidential limits in office beyond a single four-year term.
Zelaya, a businessman who edged to the left after he came to power in 2006, had upset traditional elites, including members of his own Liberal Party, by seeking changes to presidential term limits and by getting closer to Chavez.
Micheletti's government said yesterday it had contacted the OAS to express its willingness to enter dialogue over the crisis. But his foreign minister Enrique Ortez said that offer would not include talking about Zelaya's return to power.
"That is not negotiable," Ortez said.
A senior U.S. administration official said the OAS was looking for a full restoration of democracy, meaning allowing Zelaya to serve out his term.
"We're going to have to wait and see what is it that they want to talk about," the official said.
The OAS met in Washington and suspended Honduras after the interim authorities ignored an ultimatum by the 34-member body to reinstate Zelaya.
Honduras is the third poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti and Nicaragua. The OAS suspension, only the second after Cuba was barred in 1962, could complicate access to credits from regional lender Inter-American Development Bank for Honduras. The IADB said last week it was suspending loans over the coup.


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