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Page last updated at 20:09 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 21:09 UK

Profile: Honduras' Manuel Zelaya

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya speaking to reporters, 26 June 2009
Mr Zelaya moved to the left politically after his election

Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president who has returned to the country three months after being deposed, stood for the Liberal Party in the November 2005 presidential election and won by a narrow margin.

Despite his centre-right credentials, the former businessman moved Honduras away from its traditional ally the US, winning the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leftist leaders.

Mr Zelaya campaigned for office on a law and order ticket but, Reuters news agency reports, it remains a major drug-trafficking transit point, overrun by street gangs and violent crime.

Limited to a single four-year term in office under the current constitution, he was accused of seeking to change the law to allow him to stand for a second term, a charge he has denied.

Increasing opposition

Mr Zelaya won the hotly contested vote in 2005, beating Porfirio Lobo of the ruling National Party.

MANUEL ZELAYA
Won the Honduran presidential election for the Liberal Party in November 2005, beating the ruling National Party's candidate
Has moved Honduras away from its traditional ally the US
Enjoys the support of Venezuela's leftist President, Hugo Chavez
Businessman and rancher

He pledged to tackle gang warfare and poverty in one of Central America's poorest nations.

But food prices rose and violent crime continued.

Publicly backed by such leftists as Mr Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Mr Zelaya began to lose the support of his own party.

In May 2007, Mr Zelaya ordered all of the country's TV and radio stations to carry government propaganda for two hours a day, accusing them of giving his government unfair coverage.

In August 2008, he took Honduras into the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alba), an organisation set up by Venezuela as an alternative to the stalled US plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Mr Zelaya's removal came as he pressed on with plans to hold a non-binding public consultation on 28 June to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

This would have meant adding a question to the ballot papers for November's presidential election on setting up a body charged with redrawing the constitution.

Mr Zelaya's critics said the move was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president.

He was forced out of the country at gunpoint as voting was about to begin.

While living in exile in Nicaragua, Mr Zelaya made two attempts to get back into Honduras - despite threats by the de facto rulers to jail him.

On 21 September, he pronounced he was back in the country - taking refuge at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Praised by Castro

"He is surely a good man, with a healthy dose of tradition and amazing talent."

This was Fidel Castro's description of Mr Zelaya after a meeting in March with the Honduran leader who, in the Cuban ex-leader's words, "cannot be accused of being either a Marxist or a Communist".

In the same article, Mr Castro expressed his admiration for a man whose political background might have suggested a more conservative outlook.

"Coming from a family of noble descent, he received a Catholic education and... like Hugo Chavez, he found the source of inspiration nourishing his sense of justice in the ideas of Jesus Christ," Mr Castro wrote about Mr Zelaya, a former businessman with logging and ranching interests.

The Honduran president's popularity with Latin America's most prominent radicals raised questions at home about the man who had been elected as a Liberal.

According to Heather Berkman, an analyst at Eurasia Group, Mr Zelaya "alienated the business and political elite during his tenure".

He did not appear willing to operate within Honduras' established institutions, she told Reuters in an interview a few days before he was forced out.

"That raises very serious questions about how things are going to move forward," the analyst added.



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