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Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Q&A: Political crisis in Honduras

Manuel Zelaya speaking in Costa Rica before boarding a flight to Nicaragua on 28 June
Manuel Zelaya came to power in January 2006

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was sent into exile on 28 June 2009 amid a power struggle over his plans for constitutional change, triggering the biggest political crisis in Central America in years.

He returned covertly on 21 September and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy.

On 27 January he left the embassy compound on a plane bound for the Dominican Republic, and flew into exile.

How was Mr Zelaya removed?

At dawn on 28 June, between 200 and 300 troops came to Mr Zelaya's home, and, in his own words, told him to surrender or they would shoot him.

He was driven to the airport and put on a flight to Costa Rica. Later the same day, the speaker of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, constitutionally second-in-line to the presidency, was sworn in as interim leader.

What provoked his removal?

Mr Zelaya planned to hold a non-binding public consultation on 28 June to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

Had voters supported it, a referendum on setting up a body charged with redrawing the constitution would probably have been held at the same time as November's presidential election.

Mr Zelaya's critics said the move was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president, and paving the way for his possible re-election.

Mr Zelaya repeatedly denied he was seeking re-election. Some commentators point out the timescale also rendered this impossible. A constituent assembly would have had to be set up and would have needed to rewrite the constitution before Mr Zelaya's term expired in January 2010.

The consultation was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress, and was opposed by the army.

Was his removal a surprise?

To a certain degree, yes. Coups and political upheaval were common in Central America for much of the 20th Century, and until the mid-1980s the military dominated political life in Honduras.

Tension had been brewing in Honduras over the months leading up to Mr Zelaya's removal. He sacked the head of the armed forces, who refused to give logistical support for the 28 June vote. The Supreme Court overruled him, saying the army chief should be reinstated.

When Mr Zelaya insisted the consultation would go ahead, Congress voted to remove him for what it called "repeated violations of the constitution and the law", and the Supreme Court said it had ordered the president to be removed from office to protect law and order.

But why were relations between the president and the other institutions so strained?

Honduras is a poor country beset by corruption, with a huge wealth gap and widespread gang violence. However, it had been politically stable since the 1980s.

But Mr Zelaya, who came to office in 2006, had been moving the country steadily leftwards, enjoying the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in the region.

This appears to have alarmed certain sectors in Honduras, who decried his plans for constitutional change as an attempt to stay in power.

For his part, Mr Zelaya argued that the 28 June vote would merely have been a survey: a canvassing of public opinion, not a legally-binding election.

What was the reaction in Honduras?

There were demonstrations both for and against him.

On 5 July Mr Zelaya tried to fly back home, but his plane was blocked from landing.

Clashes between troops loyal to the interim government and Zelaya supporters left at least one person dead.

On 25 July Mr Zelaya made a brief but symbolic crossing into Honduras across its border with Nicaragua, where he was living in exile.

Two months later, on 21 September, he returned to Honduras, appearing in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. He said had returned "for the restoration of democracy".

What was the international reaction to Mr Zelaya's removal?

International condemnation was swift and near-unanimous, as countries moved to isolate the interim leadership.

The Organization of American States demanded Mr Zelaya's immediate reinstatement.

A number of countries in Latin America, including Mr Zelaya's allies Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, withdrew their ambassadors. All EU countries pulled out their diplomats. Brazil suspended visa-free travel for Hondurans.

The World Bank suspended financial aid.

What about the reaction from Washington?

The role of the US was key, as it is Honduras's biggest trading partner.

The Obama administration adopted a careful tone, stressing that Mr Zelaya was the democratically-elected president but also that the crisis needed to be resolved peacefully through dialogue between the two sides.

In September, the US halted all non-humanitarian aid to the country, saying the interim government had failed to respect democratic processes.

What about diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis?

There were protracted negotiations, spearheaded by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and with the US playing an important role.

But talks between the interim government and Mr Zelaya - held on and off over several weeks - failed to reach an agreement that would have allowed him to return to serve out his term.

So what happened after Porfirio Lobo won the November elections?

Several nations, including Brazil, refused to recognise the result. But calls for Mr Zelaya's reinstatement began to become more muted. The US recognised the election result, arguing the poll had been scheduled long before Mr Zelaya was ousted.

In mid-January, Mr Lobo signed an agreement with President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic to give Mr Zelaya safe passage to leave Honduras and fly there.

On 26 January, a day before Mr Lobo's inauguration, the Supreme Court cleared military commanders of abusing their power when they ordered their troops to send Mr Zelaya into exile.

Congress also voted to approve an amnesty for all those involved in the crisis, including the military and Mr Zelaya, who had faced charges of treason.

Is the crisis over?

On one level, yes. Honduras has a new president who has signalled his desire to restore diplomatic ties in the region.

But Mr Lobo takes charge of a country that was already suffering the effects of the global economic slowdown. Honduras was also hit hard when the US and other international lenders cut off aid and loans in the wake of Mr Zelaya's removal.

While many Hondurans appear ready to put the upheaval of the last few months behind them, there are calls for Mr Lobo to investigate human rights abuses by the security forces against pro-Zelaya protesters and media organisations.



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