Troops detain Honduran president
From the Associated Press
6:35 AM PDT, June 28, 2009
Tegucigalpa -- More than a dozen soldiers arrested President Manuel Zelaya and disarmed his security guards after surrounding his residence before dawn Sunday in an action that one supporter labeled a coup.
Zelaya was taken to an air force base on the outskirts of the capital, Tegucigalpa, his private secretary Carlos Enrique Reina told The Associated Press.
"We're talking about a coup d'etat," labor leader and Zelaya ally Rafael Alegria told Honduran radio Cadena de Noticias. "This is regrettable."
Alegria said that shots were fired during the president's arrest "but we really don't know much about what happened."
Honduran radio station HRN reported that Zelaya had been sent into exile, citing unidentified "trustworthy sources."
The radio announcer said it was not known to what country he had been taken but "apparently he flew on the presidential plane to Venezuela."
No one from the military or president's office would confirm the coup or exile reports.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro have both expressed support for Zelaya, who insisted on holding a referendum on constitutional reform on Sunday even though the Supreme Court ruled it illegal and everyone from the military to Congress and members of his own party opposed it.
Shortly after Zelaya's arrest, dozens of white pick-up trucks packed with soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder sped to the presidential palace in downtown Tegucigalpa, blocked the entrances and closed a large chainlink gate on the hillside road leading to the national government's headquarters.
"They kidnapped him like cowards," Melissa Gaitan, 21, an employee of the official government television station, screamed as tears streamed down her face. "We have to rally the people to defend our president."
About 30 supporters including Gaitan yelled insults at soldiers on the other side of the gate, while more troops could be seen surrounding the palace. News media were kept outside the gate as well.
Outside Zelaya's residence, a police officer who would not identify himself by name told the AP that soldiers had disarmed Zelaya's security guards but there was no violence or injuries.
The president's arrest took place about an hour before polls were to open for the nonbinding referendum asking voters if they want to hold a vote during the November presidential election on whether to convoke an assembly to rewrite the constitution.
"We demand respect for the president's life," Alegria said. "And we will go out into the streets to defend what this has cost us: living in peace and tranquility."