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Honduras ex-leader Manuel Zelaya begins exile

Supporters of Mr Zelaya at Tegucigalpa airport
Mr Zelaya's supporters gathered at Tegucigalpa airport to bid him farewell

Deposed Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya has arrived in the Dominican Republic, beginning his exile and ending seven months of turmoil in Honduras.

Hundreds of supporters, many waving flags, watched him leave the airport in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

His departure marks the end of efforts to return to office after soldiers forced him into exile at gunpoint on 28 June over a constitutional dispute.

Newly-elected President Porfirio Lobo had offered him safe passage.

Under a deal struck by the two men, Mr Zelaya agreed to fly to exile as a way to avoid prosecution in Honduras on charges that he violated the constitution while in office.

Mr Lobo said the measure - first proposed months ago in failed mediation talks in Costa Rica - was needed as part of a process of reconciliation.

Mr Zelaya travelled to the Dominican Republic on the presidential plane, accompanied by the country's president, Leonel Fernandez, who attended the swearing-in ceremony for Mr Lobo hours before.

Fond farewell

Mr Zelaya was taken to the Tegucigalpa airport in a convoy of around 15 vehicles.

Porfirio Lobo and Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigulpa
President Lobo promised Mr Zelaya safe passage

"See you later Papa Mel. God bless you," read one supporter's placard, using Mr Zelaya's nickname.

He has spent the past four months sheltering in the Brazilian embassy, after returning in secret in September.

His June ousting provoked international condemnation but diplomatic attempts to persuade the interim government to allow Mr Zelaya to return to office proved futile.

With opinion divided in Honduras and internationally, several nations have refused to recognise the legitimacy of the November election.

Mr Lobo's first act upon taking office was to sign a decree giving amnesty to the soldiers, politicians and judges who brought about the June ousting.

Mr Zelaya was removed amid a dispute over his plans to hold a vote on whether a constituent assembly should be set up to look at rewriting the constitution.

His critics said the vote, which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, aimed to remove the current one-term limit on serving as president and pave the way for his possible re-election.

Mr Zelaya repeatedly said he had no interest in staying in power but wanted to rewrite an outdated constitution to guarantee fairer representation for all Hondurans.



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