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Ousted president steps briefly into Honduran homeland

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, in his trademark white hat, lifts a chain on the border at Las Manos, Nicaragua.

Associated Press

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, in his trademark white hat, lifts a chain on the border at Las Manos, Nicaragua.

EL PARAISO, Honduras — Ousted President Manuel Zelaya took a symbolic step into his homeland Friday, vowing to reclaim his post a month after soldiers flew him into exile.

But he stayed only briefly before returning to Nicaragua, saying the risk of bloodshed was too great. He said he would give talks with the coup-installed government another try.

"I am not afraid, but I'm not crazy either," Zelaya told the Venezuela-based television network Telesur. "There could be violence, and I don't want to be the cause."

Shortly before Zelaya's crossing, his supporters clashed with soldiers and police nearby after the government ordered everyone off the streets along the 600-mile border with Nicaragua in a noon-to-dawn curfew.

Wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, Zelaya walked up to a sign reading "Welcome to Honduras" and smiled to cheering supporters at the remote mountain pass.

He stopped a few steps into Honduran territory, speaking to nearby military officials on his mobile phone.

"I've spoken to the colonel and he told me I could not cross the border," Zelaya said. "I told him I could cross."

But he soon returned to Nicaragua and said he was ready to return to the negotiating table.

"The best thing is to reach an understanding that respects the will of the people," Zelaya said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zelaya's return "reckless." International leaders had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement out of fear it would lead to bloodshed. Zelaya had said he had no choice after U.S.-backed talks failed to reinstate him.

The interim government has insisted it will arrest Zelaya once he returns, ignoring threats of sanctions from nations worldwide if he is not reinstated.

Soldiers formed a human chain near the border crossing Friday but did not move to approach Zelaya.

In a statement, the interim government of Roberto Micheletti said it, too, still believes in negotiations. Its deputy foreign minister, Marta Alvarado, accused Zelaya of seeking "subversion and a bloodbath."

All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile.

Nations on all sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability.

Ousted president steps briefly into Honduran homeland 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 11:14pm]
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