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Q&A: Crisis in Honduras

Manuel Zelaya speaking in Costa Rica before boarding a flight to Nicaragua on 28 June
Manuel Zelaya came to power in January 2006

Honduras has been suspended from the Organization of American States as punishment for ousting President Manuel Zelaya.

President Zelaya was sent into exile on 28 June amid a power struggle over his plans for constitutional change, triggering the biggest political crisis in Central America in years.

What exactly happened?

At dawn on 28 June, between 200 and 300 troops came to Mr Zelaya's home, and, in his own words, told him to surrender or they would shoot him.

He was driven to the airport and put on a flight to Costa Rica. Later on Sunday, the speaker of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, constitutionally second in line to the presidency, was sworn in as interim leader.

What provoked Mr Zelaya's removal?

Mr Zelaya planned to hold a non-binding public consultation on 28 June to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

This would in practice have meant holding a referendum at the same time as November's presidential election on setting up a body charged with redrawing the constitution.

Mr Zelaya's critics said the move was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president, and paving the way for his possible re-election.

The consultation was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress, and was opposed by the army.

Was his removal a surprise?

To a certain degree, yes. Coups and political upheaval were common in Central America for much of the 20th Century, and until the mid-1980s the military dominated political life in Honduras.

Mr Zelaya's removal is the first in the region since 1993, when Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano was forced to step down by the military.

Nevertheless, tension had been brewing in Honduras over recent months. Mr Zelaya sacked the head of the armed forces, who refused to give logistical support for the 28 June vote. The Supreme Court overruled him, saying the army chief should be reinstated.

When Mr Zelaya insisted the referendum would go ahead, Congress voted to remove him for what it called "repeated violations of the constitution and the law", and the Supreme Court said it had ordered the president to be removed from office to protect law and order.

But why were relations between the president and the other institutions so strained?

Honduras is a poor country beset by corruption, with a huge wealth gap and widespread gang violence. However, it had been politically stable since the 1980s.

But Mr Zelaya, who came to office in 2006, had been moving the country steadily leftwards, enjoying the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in the region.

This appears to have alarmed certain sectors in Honduras, who decried his plans for constitutional change as an attempt to stay in power.

For his part, Mr Zelaya argued that the consultation on Sunday would merely have been a survey: a canvassing of public opinion, not a legally-binding election. He told the BBC that legal disputes and political differences were no excuse for staging a coup.

What has been the reaction in Honduras?

There have been demonstrations both for and against Mr Zelaya. It seems many people were confused, at least initially, about what had happened, partly due to a lack of information on official media.

An overnight curfew was imposed and subsequently toughened to allow the detention of people for 24 hours without warrant.

What has been the international reaction?

International condemnation was swift and near-unanimous.

The Organization of American States demanded Mr Zelaya's immediate reinstatement.

It gave the current leadership a deadline of 72 hours, expiring on 4 July, to restore Mr Zelaya to power or face expulsion from the bloc. The US has halted joint military operations, while the World Bank suspended financial aid.

A number of countries in Latin America, including Mr Zelaya's allies Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, announced they were withdrawing their ambassadors.

Sweden, which holds the current European Union presidency, said all EU ambassadors were being pulled out.

US President Barack Obama called for all in Honduras to respect democratic norms, but also stressed that "any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference".

Mr Obama said Mr Zelaya remained the democratically-elected president of Honduras.

However, Washington has not yet moved to cut off aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the region.

What happens next?

So far it is a stalemate. Mr Zelaya's jet was blocked from landing in Honduras when he tried to return from the US on 5 July. On the ground, clashes between troops loyal to the new government and Zelaya supporters left at least one person dead.

The current Honduran leadership insists that he will never return to power.

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