Wednesday 09 September 2009 | Honduras feed | All feeds

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Honduras supreme court 'ordered army coup'

Manuel Zelaya, the president of Honduras, was arrested by the army in a coup ordered by the country's supreme court.

 
Coup in Honduras: defiant president arrives in Costa Rica
Demonstrators protest against the detainment of the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, who is now in Costa Rica Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Some 200 soldiers surrounded the president's residence in the east of the capital Tegucigalpa, disarming 10 members of the president's personal bodyguard.

"Today's events originate from a court order by a competent judge. The armed forces, in charge of supporting the constitution, acted to defend the state of law and have been forced to apply legal dispositions against those who have expressed themselves publicly and acted against the dispositions of the basic law," the country's highest court said.

Speaking in exile from neighbouring Costa Rica a defiant Mr Zelaya declared that he was still the leader of Honduras.

The statement, delivered on Costa Rican television by the president, came after he had earlier been arrested by soldiers. Mr Zelaya had been pushing ahead with a controversial referendum that would have allowed him to seek re-election but was opposed by the army.

Mr Zelaya said on television that he had been a "victim of kidnapping" and a "coup d'etat".

Honduras has become the new front line in the battle for influence in the region between the US and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

A state department official said Mr Zelaya was the only consitutional president of Hondura and that the Obama administration recognised no other.

Barack Obama, US President, said he was "deeply concerned" by the president's arrest. The European Union was quick to call on the Honduran army to release him. Jan Kohout, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, said: "The EU strongly condemns the arrest of the constitutional president of the republic of Honduras by the armed forces."

Political tensions have risen sharply in recent days ahead of today's planned referendum. The vote was scheduled to determine if Mr Zelaya would be allowed to stand for re-election, but it was opposed by the army, which refused to distribute ballot boxes.

Mr Zelaya as a result sacked General Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed forces, and also accepted the resignation of Edmundo Orellana, the defence minister. The heads of the army, marines and air force also resigned. The Supreme Court declared the referendum illegal, but Mr Zelaya decided to go ahead.

Mr Zelaya has increasingly been moving his poor country of seven million people towards Mr Chavez, a persistent and controversial critic of the US who has been seizing foreign assets as part of a large nationalisation programme.

The Honduran armed forces have however had historic links with the US, dating back to the Contras, the armed groups that were backed by the Central Intelligence Agency to topple the Left-wing Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Mr Ortega is once again president of Honduras's neighbour. The army has a long history of involvement in politics and governed Honduras from 1956 to 1982.

Mr Zelaya has joined PetroCaribe, the Venezuelan programme for cheap oil, and also Alba, the Venezuelan leader's trade pact made up of Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.

Mr Chavez, with more than a decade in power, began his reforms in Venezuela by holding a Constituent Assembly and changing the constitution. Mr Zelaya had stated that he wished to do the same and that the referendum was supposed to be the first step.

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