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Update: (6:45 pm ET): There are at least two dead at the airport in Honduras. It appears that golpista troops fired on demonstrators who had come to the airport in support of the return of Manual Zelaya.  Details in the comments, live links in comments.

Update: (10:35 pm ET): Zelaya couldn't land because the runway was blocked by military vehicles.  He is now in Salvador or Nicaragua.  The New York Times confirms 1 dead and 8 injured at the airport.  Now under curfew.

A major confrontation approaches.  Or does it?  The New York Times breathlessly reports the drama in the air:

Honduras' exiled president took off for home in a Venezuelan jet in a high-stakes attempt to return to power, even as the interim government told its military to turn away the plane.

Zelaya won wide international support after his ouster a week ago by the military, but the only prominent escort aboard his plane was the U.N. General Assembly president after Latin American leaders backed out, citing security concerns. Honduras' civil aviation director said Zelaya's plane was being redirected to El Salvador.

Several other planes carrying Latin American presidents, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and journalists were leaving Washington separately, trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land.

Presumably, the Latin American presidents won't land in Honduras if Zelaya's plane is diverted to San Salvador.

And, of course, there's a corresponding drama on the ground:

Thousands of protesters descended on the airport in the Honduran capital in anticipation of the showdown. Police helicopters hovered overhead. Commercial flights were canceled, and outside the airport about 200 soldiers with riot shields formed a line in front of the protesters.

''The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has ordered the armed forces and the police not to allow the entrance of any plane bringing the former leader,'' the foreign minister of the interim government, Enrique Ortez, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

So much for the golpista's threat that Manual Zelaya, the deposed president, would be arrested if he set foot on Hondruan soil. Evidently, the golpistas have decided that they have a tight hold on the country, and they fear the consequences of attempting to arrest Zelaya on Honduran soil.  Their tactic is simple: the golpistas control the air force and the airport.  They will keep Zelaya from returning.  The demonstrators will see nothing.

Nonetheless, thousands of demonstrators are making their way to the airport:

Zelaya has urged loyalists to support his arrival in Honduras in a peaceful show of force.

''We are going to show up at the Honduras International Airport in Tegucigalpa ... and on Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa,'' Zelaya said Saturday in the taped statement carried on the Web sites of the Telesur and Cubadebate media outlets. ''Practice what I have always preached, which is nonviolence.''

Zelaya supporters said they got the message as they converged on the airport.

''We have no pistols or arms, just our principles,'' organizer Rafael Alegria said. ''We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya.''

And so, we wait.  And we watch. The odds, I think, are that Manual Zelaya's plane will be turned away from Honduras, that the golpistas will continue to thumb their noses at the OAS, and that the question of appropriate sanctions, including the removal of ambassadors and the permanent cutting off of aid, will be the next topic of discussion.

The coup has to go.  Democracy has to be restored in Honduras.  I'm waiting to see exactly how committed the US and Canada are to those propositions.

cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

Originally posted to davidseth on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 02:15 PM PDT.

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