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Ousted Zelaya asks Clinton for assistance

DIPLOMATIC efforts to restore Manuel Zelaya to Honduras' presidency shifted back to Washington yesterday, as supporters of the ousted leader threatened to escalate protests and disrupt business across the poor Central American nation.

A day after failing to land in Honduras to confront the interim government that ousted him in a coup, Zelaya boarded a plane bound for Washington, where United States officials said he would meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Zelaya said on Monday night he hopes to ensure US support for diplomatic efforts to see him restored to power.

"Tomorrow we hope to get support for these pronouncements," Zelaya said before heading to the airport in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.

In Washington, a senior US official said one option under consideration was trying to forge a compromise between Zelaya, interim leader Roberto Micheletti and the Honduran military, under which the ousted president would be allowed to serve out his remaining six months in office with limited and clearly defined powers.

Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change that might allow him to run for another term, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, 2,000 of Zelaya's supporters rallied peacefully near the presidential palace in the Honduran capital. But anger was high over the death of a teenager shot by soldiers on Sunday as a crowd tried to break through the airport's perimeter fence, before Zelaya's plane gave up trying to land because army vehicles blocked the runway.

"We're going to change strategies," protest organizer Rafael Alegria, 57, said on Monday. "We cannot live under the current state."

He said they would take their fight nationwide by blocking major highways and border crossings.

The interim government - named by Congress to replace Zelaya's administration after a fight over his effort to stage a constitutional referendum that the Supreme Court ruled illegal - remained steadfast in saying he would not be allowed to return.

The government announced it was extending closure of the country's main airport until Friday. It parked an old plane across the runway to emphasize the point.


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