Arrest warrants for Honduran ex-president dropped

AP News
Posted: Mar 25, 2011 10:23 PM
Arrest warrants for Honduran ex-president dropped

A supreme court judge dismissed three arrest warrants for former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Friday, allowing him to return without detention to the country where he was deposed in a June 2009 coup.

Justice Oscar Chinchilla's ruling didn't dismiss corruption charges that were levied against Zelaya, who was whisked to Costa Rica in his pajamas by the military after he ignored court orders to drop a referendum on changing the constitution.

Zelaya attorney Anahim Orrellana said that although his client could return and remain free, he is not happy with the ruling because it let stand charges that Zelaya calls political.

"We want the charges to be dropped," Orrellana said in a press conference. He has three days to consider an appeal.

Zelaya, who was in Guatemala Friday for a meeting of the Central American Parliament, an organization of former presidents, couldn't be reached for comment about the court ruling. But earlier in the day, he said he still couldn't return to Honduras because of "remnants of the coup and because I have legal issues to resolve."

The warrants were issued a month after Zelaya was deposed. The former president faced seven charges, including abuse of power and treason, five of which were dropped when Congress in January 2010 passed an amnesty covering certain acts leading up to the coup.

The remaining charges involve fraud and falsifying documents to withdraw some $3 million dollars in cash.

His defense argued that Zelaya shouldn't be prosecuted because his right to due process was violated when he was physically removed from office and from the country.

Zelaya sneaked back into Honduras in September 2009, only to be holed up for the rest of the year in the Brazilian Embassy, where Honduran authorities shut off lights and water for a time and soldiers waited to arrest him.

Current President Porfirio Lobo won a previously scheduled presidential election later in 2009 and allowed Zelaya to leave the country upon taking office in January 2010, when Zelaya's term expired. Even without the coup, Zelaya could not have run for re-election.

Zelaya, who doesn't recognize Lobo's government, has vowed to return to Honduras this year. Lobo also has said he wants a legal solution that would allow Zelaya to return

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Zelaya wrote Friday that Honduran authorities are trying to destroy his social movement. He appeared to refer to the almost daily clashes between police and teachers, university students and other supporters of his National Popular Resistance Front that run for the last three weeks.

"Never before in our country have we seen a plan so brutal using such treachery to sustain the privileges of the voracious and vicious elite," he wrote.

Supporters of the coup said Zelaya was pushing a constitutional referendum to hold onto power by lifting a ban on presidential re-election, as his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did. Zelaya denied that, countering that he only wanted to give more voice to Honduras' many poor and shake up a stagnant political system dominated by a few wealthy families.


Associated Press Writer Luis Angel Sas contributed to this report from Guatemala City.