CARACAS, Venezuela - In a dramatic move, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya sneaked back into his country and turned up Monday at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
"I'm here unarmed and ready to engage in dialogue," Zelaya said by telephone with Venezuela's Telesur television network. "I'm the president legitimately elected by the Honduran people."
Zelaya's surprise move, nearly three months after the military whisked him out of the country, threw Honduras into confusion and seemed certain to escalate an already tense standoff.
The de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti had promised to jail Zelaya if he returned and to try him on 18 charges of corruption and violating the constitution.
Micheletti had no public response to Zelaya's return but imposed a curfew beginning late Monday afternoon aimed at getting Zelaya's supporters off the streets. It was supposed to end at 7 a.m. today.
The supporters, who had been demonstrating daily for Zelaya's return, rushed to the gates outside the embassy as word spread. They treated Zelaya as a conquering hero - "Yes we can!" they shouted repeatedly - and created a human shield to keep away the police and armed forces.
International law prevents Honduran forces from trying to arrest Zelaya at a foreign embassy. The grounds are considered Brazilian territory.
Juan Barahona, who has led the groups in Honduras that are demanding Zelaya's return, told Telesur from inside the embassy that any attempt by Micheletti's government to rush the embassy "would result in a bloodbath.''
"There are thousands and thousands of our supporters outside," he said.
Among those who celebrated Zelaya's return was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his closest ally. Chavez had lent the exiled Zelaya a government airplane while he traveled throughout Latin America to rally foreign leaders.
"President Manuel Zelaya, along with four companions, traveled for two days overland, crossing mountains and rivers, risking their lives," Chavez announced. "They have made it to Tegucigalpa."