TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras’ de facto government sent troops yesterday to shut down two media stations loyal to ousted President Manuel Zelaya, digging in to resist international pressure for his return to power.
Zelaya was forced into exile by a June 28 military coup but he returned secretly last week and was given refuge in Brazil’s embassy, fueling a standoff with the civilian government that took over and has vowed to arrest him.
Soldiers and riot police have surrounded the embassy for the past week, while the leftist Zelaya urges his followers to take to the streets to demand he be restored to office in the coffee- and textile-producing Central American country.
The raids on Radio Globo and the Cholusat Sur television station — both critical of the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti — came early yesterday and followed a decree allowing suspension of some civil rights and media.
“Honduras is being subjected to fascist rule,” Zelaya said in an unusual speech delivered over a cellphone from the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa to the UN General Assembly in New York. “I call on the United Nations to help reverse this coup d’etat.”
The Organization of American States, or OAS, met in Washington and condemned Micheletti’s government for denying entry on Sunday to an OAS delegation seeking to set up a high-level visit to broker a negotiated settlement.
At the session, US Ambassador Lewis Anselem described the government’s actions as “deplorable and foolish” but also told Zelaya to “desist from making wild allegations and from acting as though he were starring in an old movie.”
The crisis is the first serious test for US President Barack Obama in Latin America. He has called for Zelaya’s reinstatement and cut some aid to Honduras but has also been criticized for not doing more to restore democracy in the country.
Brazil, which was thrust to the forefront of the crisis when Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and entered its embassy, urged more international pressure on the de facto government.
“Turning away an OAS mission is an absolute refusal to engage in dialogue,” Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says he will ignore a 10-day deadline set by the Honduran government to decide on Zelaya’s fate or have the embassy shut down.
A negotiated accord seems distant with Zelaya’s return to power the main sticking point. After receiving a flood of criticism from abroad, Micheletti said an OAS delegation was welcome to visit the country, but not until Oct. 7.
Both of the media stations shut down yesterday had been taken off the air several times since the coup that toppled Zelaya, a logging magnate who irked the conservative opposition and business groups by allying himself with Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez.
“Troops assaulted the radio, took over the station and took it off the air,” Radio Globo director David Romero said.
A few hundred pro-Zelaya protesters squared off with police yesterday but they dispersed peacefully after a few hours and the capital was generally calm.
The government’s tough stance sent a clear message that it does not intend to allow Zelaya to return to power and is determined to hold out until presidential elections are held on Nov. 29 and a new leader takes power in January.