Move aimed at preventing ousted leader Manuel Zelaya from returning following previous military blockade on runway
By Rory Carroll, guardian.co.uk, July 6, 2009
Coup leaders in Honduras shut the country's main airport today to block President Manuel Zelaya making another attempted return a day after military vehicles prevented his jet from landing.
The interim government, increasingly isolated and beleaguered, banned all flights for 24 hours to try to keep the exiled leader out and to dampen fresh protests by his supporters.
Zelaya promised yesterday to make another attempted return from neighbouring El Salvador today or tomorrow but US officials suggested he may instead fly to Washington for talks with the Obama administration and Latin American diplomats.
The Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, remained tense. Zelaya's supporters promised to mobilise fresh demonstrations despite bloody clashes with security forces yesterday. Soldiers opened fire on a crowd marching towards the airport, killing at least two, the first fatalities in the eight-day-old crisis.
Hospitals admitted many more people with gunshot wounds and staff told reporters there was an increasing number of victims shot by the military during the nightly curfew.
Zelaya, speaking at a news conference in El Salvador, appealed to the army to avoid further casualties. "I call on the armed forces of Honduras to lower their rifles."
The leftist leader was flanked by the presidents of El Salvador, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador and the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza. "I am risking myself personally to resolve the problems without violence."
He urged the United Nations, the OAS and European Union to "do something with this repressive regime".
The interim government, which took power on 28 June after soldiers seized Zelaya in his pyjamas and bundled him into exile, slightly softened its position and said it wanted to negotiate with the OAS. But it ruled out Zelaya's return to power. "We will be here until the country calms down," said the interim president, Roberto Micheletti. "We are the authentic representatives of the people."
The coup was supported by those Hondurans who feared Zelaya's leftist agenda and alliance with Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez. But the new government has been denounced internationally. The OAS suspended Honduras, the World Bank froze lending, the EU recalled its ambassadors and the US cut diplomatic and military contacts.
The impoverished coffee-exporter of 7 million people has become dangerously polarised between the poor and working class, who tend to support Zelaya for his social programmes, and the middle class and institutions such as congress, the Catholic church and the military who consider him a dangerous radical who wanted to perpetuate himself in power.
From a clandestine location, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquel, who was culture minister in the ousted government, told the BBC that Honduras risked sliding into civil war.
"It is a terrible situation, a dangerous impasse. In the 1970s we had groups of guerrillas but they were always isolated, the country never felt in danger of civil war. Today there is the risk because both sides have a wide social base, they are completely polarised and they have weapons and resources."
The interim government said if Zelaya did manage to return he would be arrested for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and corruption.
The OAS suspension will complicate Honduras' access to multilateral loans but so far its economy, heavily dependent on coffee exports, aid and remittances, has not suffered trade sanctions.
The interim government said it was prepared to hunker down until November when a presidential election would select a new leader - under the constitution Zelaya cannot run for a second term - and supposedly end the crisis.