Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 09:26 UK

President with a taste for drama

By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Tegucigalpa

Ousted President Zelaya of Honduras
Mr Zelaya had planned a dramatic return to the capital

And on the seventh day, he returned.

Maybe that was what President Manuel Zelaya was thinking as he flew, in a Venezuelan jet, through the sunset, towards the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

Just a week ago he had been bundled from his official residence, and sent - in his pyjamas - into enforced exile.

Now, he was returning with all the dignity worldwide political endorsement can bring.

Revealing his taste for spectacle, the president had made arrangements to broadcast from the plane.

Live on the leftist television network Telesur, his commentary set the tone.

"The blood of Christ is coursing though my veins," the former cattle rancher proclaimed.

"Soon I will be with you all to raise the crucifix."

Back at ground level, there was a different, ugly reality.

All day, tens of thousands of Mr Zelaya's supporters had approached the airport.

Popularity problems

Rows of soldiers and police in body armour were guarding the perimeter fence. When demonstrators began to breach the security around the runway, dozens of tear gas canisters were launched.


Live gunshots were reportedly coming from close to the terminal building. At least one man was killed.

The crowd roared as Mr Zelaya's plane came into view. It circled low. But an attempt at landing would have tested his mortality.

Army trucks, their headlights blazing, had been lined up on the runway.

The presidential plane headed for Nicaragua and then on to El Salvador.


President Zelaya planned non-binding public consultation on constitutional change
Critics say he wanted to stay in power
28 June: Troops seize and expel Zelaya; parliamentary speaker becomes interim leader
29 June: US President Obama condemns the overthrow as illegal

4 July: Organization of American States suspends Honduras in protest at overthrow
5 July: Mr Zelaya's jet is turned back from Honduras and clashes with troops leave at least one person dead

So what happens next?

Mr Zelaya's flypast of the Honduran capital revealed some of the challenges he faces in trying to reverse what happened here a week ago.

When he was still 30 minutes away from the airport Mr Zelaya had called for the army to obey his orders and, for the sake of the country, allow his plane to land.

There was no sign of any defection from the soldiers.

The president does have every government in the world on his side. The has been a global consensus that he, not his replacement, should be in the presidential palace. But getting him there without the army would appear improbable.


And then there is the issue of popularity.

Walk through the streets of Tegucigalpa and you will find plenty of people who are pleased that "Mel" - as Manuel Zelaya is known - has gone.

His popularity was hovering at about 30% by the time he was removed from office.

The capital is not representative of the entire country, of course, and random surveys are just that.

But every day for the last week, demonstrators have been marching in the streets. Some have been supportive of Mr Zelaya, some have been bitterly against.

The president's dilemma right now would be much less complex if everyone, or nearly everyone, wanted him back.

Instead, he is faced with a highly polarised society. You either love Mel, or hate him. There seems little room for a middle ground.

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