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Ousted ex-President Zelaya returns to Honduras

By the CNN Wire Staff
Manuel Zelaya has spent months in exile in the Dominican Republic, waiting to be able to return to Honduras
Manuel Zelaya has spent months in exile in the Dominican Republic, waiting to be able to return to Honduras
  • NEW: Manuel Zelaya calls on his supporters to pursue peaceful, democratic change
  • NEW: He tells CNN en Espanol he does not intend to run for president right now
  • Zelaya was overthrown in a coup in 2009
  • The country is divided over his rule and return

(CNN) -- Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup nearly two years ago, returned to his homeland Saturday.

His plane touched down in the capital, Tegucigalpa, in the afternoon. Thousands of supporters cheered his arrival at the airport.

While Zelaya has entered Honduras since the military roused him in his pajamas and sent him into exile, Saturday marked the first time he returned without fear of prosecution.

Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, Zelaya addressed his supporters, calling on them to pursue peaceful, democratic change.

"The problem of poverty, of corruption ... will not be solved with violence, but through more democracy, greater citizen participation and better transparency," he told a roaring crowd.

2009: Honduran president ousted
  • Honduras
  • Manuel Zelaya

Zelaya this month inked an accord with the country's current president that allowed him to return. Most recently, he has been in exile in the Dominican Republic.

The deal, which was brokered by the Colombian and Venezuelan governments, was signed in Cartagena, Colombia, by Zelaya and Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

It allowed Zelaya and his allies to return to Honduras and helps clear the way for the country to rejoin the Organization of American States. Zelaya and his supporters will also be permitted to participate in Honduran politics.

"I hope the reconciliation plan serves to unite the family of Honduras," Zelaya told CNN en Espanol, from the plane that took him to Honduras. "I am a peaceful man. I am a Christian and I do not hold a grudge."

He said he does not immediately intend to run for president.

Zelaya, who alienated many by his insistence on pursuing constitutional changes that might have allowed him to seek re-election, nonetheless counts with many allies.

His supporters in Tegucigalpa prepared banners and posters this week to pass out to those who would gather to welcome him back.

Yet many others are not thrilled. Even several of the country's news networks refused to cover Zelaya's arrival. Cholusat Sur broadcast images of his return.

"I think that this will create more problems for the country," university student Daniel Melendez said prior to the former leader's arrival. "There is going to be a repeat of what there was before."

Zelaya was overthrown on June 28, 2009, and flown into exile. He sneaked back into Honduras in September of that year and got refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, where he remained holed up until Lobo arranged for Zelaya to get safe passage out of the country.

Honduras has been excluded from the Organization of American States since the coup, in part because Zelaya had not been allowed to return home without fear of prosecution. He faced corruption charges, which were dropped this month.

The de facto government that replaced Zelaya was eventually replaced by the elected government of Lobo. But because the election happened under the rule of the de facto forces, some countries have not recognized the election results.

Many countries, including the United States, have recognized the Lobo government, while others, such as Brazil, have not.

Zelaya's return to Honduras is expected to help further reintegrate Honduras into the international community.

Journalist Elvin Sandoval contributed to this report for CNN.