Honduran police seize school after 2nd day of violence

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Thousands of protesters calling for the return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya clashed with police Wednesday for the second day in a row, but Honduras' de facto government showed no willingness to allow Zelaya to return.

Youths with bandannas covering their faces threw rocks at police outside Honduras' congressional building. The police, protecting themselves with riot shields, periodically launched tear gas to disperse them but not before the protesters sacked a home stereo store said to be owned by a former Honduran president who supported Zelaya's ouster.

The police occupied the teachers' university that has been the demonstrators' base of operations and securely locked the gates to keep them from returning.

It was unclear how many protesters took part in the demonstration. Police placed the number at 3,000; pro-Zelaya supporters said 10,000. There were no reports of deaths but witnesses said seven protesters were injured Wednesday by police clubs. Police said they arrested 43 people on Tuesday and another 18 on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Honduran authorities declared a curfew in the capital after the protesters, many of whom arrived by foot from outside Tegucigalpa in their largest organizing effort yet, broke windows, looted a Dunkin' Donuts franchise and set fire to a municipal bus.

Most commerce seemed to carry on as usual Wednesday, though teachers and medical professionals who were striking in solidarity with Zelaya shut down public schools and hospitals.

But government officials decided late Wednesday not to impose another curfew.

"They have a right to protest, but they cannot destroy private property," said Marcia Villeda, a vice president of Congress. "We'll just keep doing what we have to do. This government is just trying to hold on and resist until we have new elections."

The violence came as Honduras' de facto government seemed increasingly unlikely to accept any resolution to the crisis that returns Zelaya to office.

The military rousted Zelaya from bed June 28 and bundled him aboard a military plane that took him to Costa Rica after the country's Supreme Court called for his arrest, saying he'd violated the country's constitution by scheduling a referendum on whether Honduras should hold an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Honduras' transition president, Roberto Micheletti, whom Congress named to replace Zelaya, has said repeatedly that the country will hold presidential elections Nov. 29 as previously scheduled under Zelaya.

The ousted president visited Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday in his latest stop to rally foreign leaders to push for his return.

On Tuesday, the protesters burned a Popeyes chicken franchise and torched a public bus on Central America Avenue, near the teachers' university.

They also ransacked a Dunkin' Donuts next to Popeyes and broke windows at the nearby Banco Occidental.

One of the youths who entered the Dunkin' Donuts had a rock in one hand and grabbed a doughnut with the other, said the outlet manager, Javier Rodriguez.

The youths stole a computer, cash from the register and cash from a jar for a children's foundation, Rodriguez said.

"I don't understand what they're doing," he said Wednesday as co-workers continued to clean up broken glass from the day before. "What they're doing only affects people like me who work here."

At Diunsa, a department store next door, workers had yet to replace a glass door that was broken the day before.

"I feel like it's a campaign to destabilize the country," store manager Pedro Cubas said. "They think the private sector was behind the coup."

On Tuesday, the marchers heard exhortations to continue their fight from Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, and other protest leaders.

Shortly afterward, a dozen demonstrators crossed the street and stormed into a Burger King full of people eating lunch.

"Get out! Get out, comrades!" the protesters shouted, and the place cleared out within minutes.

"You had better not film this," one of the protesters told a camera operator, who quickly took heed.

The ringleader appeared to be a young man who was wearing a Nike baseball cap and had covered his face with a red bandanna.

As he left, a woman who was trying to enter upbraided him.

"I come here every day for lunch," she shouted. "You guys are the ones destroying public order."

The protesters broke the Burger King's windows later in the afternoon.


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