By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras on Monday almost three months after he was toppled in a coup, and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the capital to avoid arrest.
Reuters photographer Edgar Garrido saw Zelaya with aides and his wife in the embassy, and the leftist president gave media interviews from inside the building.
Zelaya’s ouster on June 28 in a dispute over presidential term limits plunged Honduras into its worst political crisis in decades, and was criticized by U.S. President Barack Obama, the European Union and Latin American governments.
His return raises the stakes for the conservative de facto government, which was installed after the coup and which has defied international pressure to let Zelaya return.
De facto ruler Roberto Micheletti wants Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, arrested.
“I am here in Tegucigalpa. I am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue.” Zelaya told Honduran television. He told the Venezuelan-run television network Telesur he was fulfilling the will of the people who wanted him returned to power.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Zelaya supporters gathered outside the main U.N. building in the capital shouting “Yes, we did it!”
Soldiers toppled Zelaya and sent him into exile after he upset conservative opponents, who accused him of wanting to change the constitution to allow presidents to seek re-election. Zelaya, who was due to leave office in January after elections in November, has denied he was seeking to extend his time in power.
The United States confirmed Zelaya was back in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and a staunch U.S. ally during Cold War conflicts in Central America.
“At this point, all I can say is reiterate our almost daily call on both sides to exercise restraint and refrain from … any activities that could provoke violence, ” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.
Washington has pushed for Zelaya’s return but Latin American left-wing governments have accused the Obama administration of not being critical enough of the coup.
In New York, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said he was hopeful Zelaya’s return could start a new stage in negotiations to end the Honduran crisis.
The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said Honduras’ de facto rulers “should be responsible for the safety of President Zelaya and the Brazilian Embassy.”
Honduras is a major coffee producer but exports have not been affected by the crisis.
Hat tip: Noah