Honduras slides toward even greater instability

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras’ interim government closed its main airport to all flights on Monday after blocking the runway to prevent the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Clashes with his supporters caused the first death in a week of protests.

Police and soldiers blanketed the streets of the capital early Monday, enforcing a sunset-to-sunrise curfew with batons and metal poles. Civil aviation authorities announced a 24-hour ban on all flights at the country’s main airport starting Monday morning.

Soldiers clashed Sunday with thousands of Zelaya backers massed at the airport in hopes of welcoming home the deposed leader removed 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 today 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.