Honduran police break up protest by teachers

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2011 10:15 PM
Honduran police break up protest by teachers

Honduran police using tear gas and water cannons dispersed a group of protesters who blocked a main avenue in the capital to demand the return of ousted former President Manuel Zelaya from exile.

The protests led by teachers are entering their third week in Honduras, where Zeyala was ousted in a 2009 coup. The teachers are demanding Zelaya be allowed to return from exile in the Dominican Republic.

They are also protesting a six-month delay in salary payments and a proposal to give local communities more control over the country's highly centralized school system. The government says the protesters want to destabilize the country.

Students and striking health care workers were also at the protest Monday, said police spokesman Wilmer Suazo.

President Porfirio Lobo said the protests are aimed at undermining Honduras' efforts to be reincorporated into the Organization of American States, which suspended the country after Zelaya's ouster.

"They are trying to destabilize my government," Lobo said at a news conference. "All of this is part of an ideological strategy to provoke difficulties, especially now that there is the possibility of returning to the OAS at the next general assembly in June."

Zelaya, who is in exile in the Dominican Republic, was ousted in June 28, 2009 in a dispute over changing the Honduran constitution. Lobo was elected in a previously scheduled election later that year but many Zelaya backers argue the vote was illegitimate because it occurred under an interim government installed by the coup.

A coalition of Zelaya supporters called the National Front of Popular Resistance has called for a general strike Wednesday, threatening to escalate the conflict in the polarized and impoverished Central American country.

"Porfirio Lobo is once again revealing the fascist character of his government, which is trying to destroy popular organization and the gains of the people to impose an economic system that only benefits the oligarchy and multilateral companies," the front said in a statement.

About 14,000 public health care workers walked off the job for four hours Monday to support the pro-Zelaya demonstrators and protest a proposal to raise the retirement age for civil servants from 65 to 70 years old. Union leader Orlando Discua said the strike ended after the president of the Honduran Congress insisted there were no immediate plans to the proposal.

The teachers' union also filed a criminal complaint against the Lobo government for the death of assistant principal Ilse Velasquez during a protest last week. Protesters say she was hit by a police vehicle that was spraying water at protesters.