By WILL WEISSERT and NESTOR IKEDA
The Associated Press
Sunday, July 5, 2009 12:00 PM
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras braced for confrontation Sunday as ousted President Manuel Zelaya insisted on coming home to reclaim his post, urging his supporters to mass at the airport for a showdown with the interim government in power since the army sent him into exile a week ago.
The interim government said it ordered the military to prevent the landing of a plane carrying Zelaya or any unidentified plane.
"The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has order the armed forces and the police not to allow the entrance of any plane bringing the former leader," the foreign minister of the interim government, Enrique Ortez, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
At the main Tegucigalpa airport, soldiers outnumbered travelers and commercial flights were canceled after a final morning departure. Access roads were cut off by police checkpoints, with soldiers standing guard alongside.
The poor Central American country's Roman Catholic archbishop and its human right commissioner urged Zelaya to stay away, warning that his return could spark bloodshed. The interim government said it would arrest Zelaya and put him on trial despite near-universal international condemnation of the coup that removed him as he campaigned to revise the constitution.
In Washington, the Organization of American States suspended Honduras as a member late Saturday. Micheletti preemptively pulled out of the OAS hours earlier rather than comply with an ultimatum that Zelaya be restored.
On Saturday, Zelaya posted an audio message on the Internet urging loyalists to greet his arrival in a peaceful show of force.
"We are going to show up at the Honduras International Airport in Tegucigalpa ... and on Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa," Zelaya said in the taped statement carried on the Web sites of the Telesur and Cubadebate media outlets. "Practice what I have always preached, which is nonviolence."
Zelaya supporters gathered Sunday morning at a university on the south side of the capital and planned to march to the airport.
"We have no pistols or arms, just our principles," said Rafael Alegria, a prominent pro-Zelaya protest organizer. "We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya."
In comments to a local radio station, Zelaya said he would be accompanied by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, several foreign ministers and 300 journalists.
But Zelaya's plans remained quite fluid early Sunday, and Fernandez said as she exited the diplomatic meeting in Washington that no other presidents would fly with him into Honduras. OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said it wasn't yet clear whether he would accompany Zelaya, either. Fernandez, Correa and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo planned a joint news conference at Ecuador's embassy in Washington to explain their plans.
Catholic Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez implored Zelaya not to confront the interim government, saying in a statement broadcast Saturday that "your return to the country could unleash a bloodbath."
The country's new government has vowed to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.
Large crowds of Zelaya's critics have staged their own daily demonstrations to back Micheletti, the congressional president who was named by lawmakers to finish out the final six months of the Zelaya's term.
Most of the ousted leader's supporters come from the working and middle classes of this impoverished nation, while his opponents are based in the ranks of the well-to-do - although the increasingly leftist approach of the wealthy rancher had eroded his popular support.
The military ousted Zelaya with the backing of Honduras' political establishment, including the Supreme Court, Congress and Zelaya's own party. He was insisting on following through with a referendum on constitutional change that the Supreme Court ruled illegal.
But by sending soldiers to shoot up the presidential residence and fly Zelaya into exile, the Micheletti government has brought itself universal condemnations from the United Nations and OAS. No nation has recognized the new government; U.S. President Barack Obama has united with conservative Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and leftist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in criticism.
The OAS had given the Honduran government until Saturday to reinstate Zelaya, and sent two emergency missions to Honduras in hopes of heading off an escalation. But Micheletti pointedly rejected the group's demands.
"It is very clear that in the de facto government, there is no willingness to change its conduct," Jose Miguel Insulza said in urging Honduras' suspension.
Thirty-three nations voted for the suspension, with Honduras abstaining. It was the first time the OAS suspended a member nation over a military coup since 1990, when Haiti was punished for Gen. Raoul Cedras' putsch against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Will Weissert reported from Tegucigalpa and Nestor Ikeda from Washington. Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas and Marcos Aleman in Tegucigalpa contributed to this report.