Honduras pulls out of OAS

TEGUCIGALPA: Honduras headed toward international isolation Saturday after the country's coup leaders said they were pulling out of the Organization of American States in the face of almost certain suspension by the international body.

Amid the political deadlock, thousands of frustrated Hondurans were expected to protest again, a day after OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said here that those who ousted President Manuel Zelaya last weekend did not plan to reverse the situation, and denounced a "military coup."

The interim government responded by pulling out of the OAS.

The body had been due to vote on suspending the Central American country in its Saturday meeting in Washington.

Honduras "ceases its compliance with the charter of the Organization of American States... with immediate effect," deputy foreign minister Marta Lorena Alvarado said on national television late Friday.

The OAS chief warned of increasing polarization in the impoverished nation of 7.5 million.

Soldiers bundled Zelaya into a plane at dawn last Sunday and sent him to Costa Rica after he clashed with the country's courts, army and politicians -- including some from his own party -- over a bid to change the constitution.

A spokesman for the Supreme Court said it had told Insulza that the removal of Zelaya was "irreversible."

Insulza met here with politicians and legal and religious figures, but not the interim president, Roberto Micheletti, whom he does not recognize.

Micheletti's supporters said the army was justified in ousting Zelaya -- on orders of Congress and the Supreme Court -- because he had called a referendum that they claim he planned to use to extend his rule.

"I don't know what you call it when a group of soldiers, sent by soldiers in a military operation, remove a president and send him off in a military plane to another country. That is a military coup," Insulza said.

The OAS chief was due to return to Washington on Saturday, where the regional body was due to meet, and had been due to vote on whether to suspend Honduras from the 35-nation group -- a threat last carried out on Cuba in 1962.

The leaders who deposed Zelaya had said they may consider holding early elections to end the impasse, but now looked set to try to hunker down until scheduled elections in November.

Growing protests from supporters and detractors of Zelaya, a freezing of international aid and recalls of foreign ambassadors have shaken the country in the past week.

With their lives also disrupted by night-time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- as well as media blackouts and reported detentions, tension is rising among inhabitants of one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Zelaya has meanwhile traveled the region seeking support and said he no longer wishes to change the constitution.

Interim leaders have threatened to arrest him if he returns to the country, while Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Zelaya was likely to go back on Sunday.

Friends and foes in the international community have united to heap pressure on Honduras, including hundreds of millions of dollars in aid freezes from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Chavez, Zelaya's main backer, announced that Venezuela was suspending key shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

All EU countries with embassies in Honduras have withdrawn their ambassadors and neighboring countries have imposed trade blockades.

The defiance of the Honduran interim leaders threatens its part in negotiations for a free trade treaty between the European Union and Central America, diplomats said.