Honduras slides toward greater instability

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Already volatile Honduras slid toward greater instability after soldiers blocked an airport runway to keep ousted President Manuel Zelaya from returning, and protests that had remained largely peaceful yielded their first death.

Police and soldiers blanketed the streets of the capital early Monday — enforcing a sunset-to-sunrise curfew with batons and metal poles. Officials closed the country's main airport to all flights for 24 hours starting Monday morning.

Soldiers clashed Sunday with thousands of Zelaya backers massed at the airport in hopes of welcoming home the deposed leader deposed a week earlier.

But military vehicles and soldiers blocked the runway. Pilots of the plane loaned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez circled the airport and decided not to risk a crash.

Zelaya instead headed for El Salvador, and vowed to try again Monday or Tuesday in his high-stakes effort to return to power in a country where all branches of government have lined up against him.

"I call on the Armed Forces of Honduras to lower their rifles," he said late Sunday at a news conference, flanked by the presidents of El Salvador, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador, and the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, who flew there from Washington.

"I am risking myself personally to resolve the problems without violence," said Zelaya, who planned to fly later to Nicaragua. He urged the United Nations, the OAS, the United States and European countries to "do something with this repressive regime."

Insulza said he "is open to continuing all appropriate diplomatic overtures to obtain our objective."

But interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti said he won't negotiate until "things return to normal."

"We will be here until the country calms down," Micheletti said. "We are the authentic representatives of the people."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in Geneva he is saddened by the loss of life in Honduras and he urged authorities to protect civilians, saying they should be allowed to express their opinions without being threatened.

He again called the coup unacceptable.

Clashes broke out Sunday afternoon between police and soldiers and the huge crowd of Zelaya supporters surrounding Tegucigalpa's international airport. At least one man was killed — shot in the head from inside the airport as people tried to break through a security fence, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

The Red Cross identified him as a 19-year-old from Zelaya's home province of Olancho.

At least 30 people were treated for injuries, the Red Cross said, after security forces fired warning shots and tear gas.

When Zelaya's plane was turned away, his supporters began chanting "We want blue helmets!" — a reference to U.N. peacekeepers.

Karin Antunez, 27, was in tears.

Valdivieso reported from San Salvador, El Salvador. Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas, Marcos Aleman and Esteban Felix in Tegucigalpa and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Wuppertal in Germany. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender