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Honduras leader won't restore military chief

President Manuel Zelaya ignores a court ruling on Gen. Romeo Vasquez, whom he fired Wednesday for refusing to support a referendum on changing the constitution.

June 26, 2009|Associated Press

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — The Honduran president said Thursday that he would ignore a high court ruling ordering him to reinstate the military chief he had fired, escalating a showdown that has threatened the leftist leader's hold on power.

President Manuel Zelaya's plan to hold a referendum Sunday on changing the constitution has pitted him against the country's top courts, the attorney general, military leaders and even his own party, all of whom say the vote is illegal.

Zelaya has won the support of labor leaders, farmers and civic organizations who hope constitutional changes will give them a greater voice in a conservative country where 70% of the population is poor.

Zelaya fired Gen. Romeo Vasquez late Wednesday as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for refusing to support the referendum, intended to measure popular support for constitutional changes. Zelaya has not said what he wants to change, but critics accuse him of trying to extend presidential terms before his ends in January.

The Supreme Court ordered Vasquez reinstated and warned of penalties if the president ignores the ruling.

"We will not obey the Supreme Court," Zelaya told more than 2,000 supporters gathered outside the presidential offices. "The court, which only imparts justice for the powerful, the rich and the bankers, only causes problems for democracy."

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