Honduran president ousted


The Honduran army ousted President Manuel Zelaya and threw him out of the country today in Central America's first military coup since the Cold War after he upset the army by trying to win re-election.

The Honduran Supreme Court said it had ordered the army to oust Mr Zelaya today because of his unlawful plan to hold a public vote on presidential re-election.

"It acted to defend the rule of law," the court said in a statement read on Honduran radio, after the army took Zelaya from his home at dawn and flew him to nearby Costa Rica.

However, Honduras will go ahead with its presidential election as planned on November 29th, the country's top electoral court added.

US President Barack Obama expressed deep concern after troops came for Mr Zelaya, an ally of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, at dawn and took him away from his residence.

A military plane flew Mr Zelaya to Costa Rica and CNN's Spanish-language channel said he had asked for asylum there.

Police fired tear gas at pro-government protesters in the capital, Honduran radio said, and two fighter jets screamed through the sky over the capital.

The impoverished Central American country had been politically stable since the end of military rule in the early 1980s, but Mr Zelaya's push to change the constitution to allow him another term has split the country's institutions.

Mr Zelaya fired military chief General Romeo Vasquez last week for refusing to help him run an unofficial referendum on Sunday on extending the four-year term limit on Honduran presidents.

Honduras's Supreme Court last week came out against Mr Zelaya and ordered him to reinstate the fired military chief.

The president told Venezuela-based Telesur television station that he was "kidnapped" by soldiers and called on Hondurans to peacefully resist the coup.

Pro-Zelaya demonstrators gathered at the presidential palace, which was surrounded by soldiers.

The EU condemned the coup, and Mr Barack Obama called for calm. Honduras was a staunch US ally in the 1980s when Washington helped Central American governments fight left-wing guerrillas.

"Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference," Mr Obama said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the military action and urged a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

"We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue," she said in a statement.

Venezuela's President Chavez has put his troops on alert and said he would respond militarily if his envoy to the Central American country was attacked or kidnapped.

He said Honduran soldiers took away the Cuban ambassador and left the Venezuelan ambassador on the side of a road after beating him during the coup.

Mr Chavez said if a new government is sworn in after the coup it would be defeated. "We will bring them down, we will bring them down, I tell you," Mr Chavez said on Venezuelan state television.

Ecuador said it would not recognise any new government in Honduras.

Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza "strongly condemned" the coup and demanded the rebels "reveal the whereabouts of President Zelaya".

The global economic crisis has curbed growth in Honduras, which lives off coffee and textile exports and remittances from Honduran workers abroad. Recent opinion polls indicate public support for Mr Zelaya has fallen as low as 30 per cent.

Honduras, home to around seven million people, is a major drug trafficking transit point. It is also a big coffee producer but there was no immediate sign the unrest would affect production.