MEXICO CITY — President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was ousted by the army on Sunday, capping months of tensions over his efforts to lift presidential term limits, in the first military coup in Central America since the end of the Cold War.
Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, early Sunday, disarming the presidential guard, seizing Zelaya and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica.
Zelaya, a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, angrily denounced the coup as illegal. Still in his pajamas, Zelaya spoke at a news conference at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica.
"I want to return to my country," Zelaya said. "I am president of Honduras."
The first military takeover of a Central American government in 16 years drew widespread condemnation from governments in Latin America and the world — including the United States — and Chavez vowed to overthrow the country's apparent new leader.
The Congress voted to accept what it said was Zelaya's letter of resignation, and Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in to serve until Zelaya's term ends.
Zelaya denied resigning.
Micheletti insisted that he did not arrive at his new post "under the aegis of a coup d'etat."
Some of Zelaya's Cabinet members had been detained by soldiers or police following his ouster, according to former government official Armando Sarmiento. And the rights group Freedom of Expression said leftist legislator Cesar Ham died in a shootout with soldiers trying to detain him.
Zelaya left Coast Rica late Sunday on a plane provided by Chavez, bound for Nicaragua, where he was to attend a scheduled meeting of Central American presidents today.
The Honduran military offered no public explanation for its actions, but the Supreme Court issued a statement saying that the military had acted to defend the law against "those who had publicly spoken out and acted against the constitution's provisions."
Leaders across the hemisphere, however, denounced the coup, which American officials said Sunday they had been working for several days to avert.
President Barack Obama in a statement called on Honduran officials "to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."
The arrest of Zelaya was the culmination of a battle over his proposed constitutional referendum, which was to have taken place on Sunday. Critics said the referendum was an illegal attempt to rewrite the constitution to eliminate its limit of a single four-year term for the president.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.