The ousted president of Honduras has briefly crossed the country's border with Nicaragua, in a symbolic move the US has described as "reckless".
Manuel Zelaya has been in exile for nearly a month after he was forced from his position by a coup, and had previously tried to return by plane. The interim government had said it will arrest him if he sets foot in Honduras.
Earlier, soldiers fired tear gas at hundreds of Mr Zelaya's supporters who were waiting for him near the border. Talks in Costa Rica aimed at resolving the political crisis collapsed two weeks ago with no agreement reached.
Mr Zelaya, surrounded by supporters and journalists and talking into a mobile phone, lifted the chain marking the border between Nicaragua and Honduras in the frontier town of Los Manos and walked underneath it.
The BBC's Stephen Gibbs said the military personnel retreated by about 20m (yards) as he did so, apparently unclear how to react.
Mr Zelaya, wearing his customary cowboy-style hat, walked up to a sign reading "Welcome to Honduras" but did not go any further into the country.
Less than 30 minutes later, the ousted leader crossed back into Nicaragua, saying the risk of bloodshed was too great.
"I am not afraid but I'm not crazy either," he told Venezuelan-based TV network Telesur. "There could be violence and I don't want to be the cause."
The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has described Mr Zelaya's return as "reckless" and not conducive to "the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis".
Challenging the coup in Honduras
by Mike Gonzalez
Trade unions, farmers, student organisations and social movements have called a general strike in Honduras for Thursday of this week. The protest movement has continued and grown since the 28 June coup, despite increasingly brutal repression and the murder of several demonstrators by the army.
During the coup president Manuel Zelaya was taken from his home and dumped on an airfield in neighbouring Costa Rica. The government that emerged from the coup is supported by the judiciary, the armed forces, the Church, and the employers' organisations – and that fact tells its own eloquent story.
What none of them expected, was the level of mass resistance that the coup has provoked.
The immediate cause of the coup was Zelaya’s decision to hold a referendum that the could lead to a change in the constitution. He had also raised the minimum wage some months earlier. And perhaps most importantly, he had begun to appear at the side of Hugo Chavez at the meetings of ALBA, the Latin American regional organisation promoted by the Venezuelan president.
Venezuela is supplying cheap oil to Honduras, 60 percent of whose people live in poverty, so Zelaya had reason to be grateful. But Zelaya is no radical in the Chavez or Morales mould. He is a liberal elected to the presidency via the system of alternating power with the conservatives that has operated in the country for decades.
So was this just another military coup in a "banana republic"? The term was coined by the US writer O Henry about Honduras, at the beginning of the 20th century. The county's history has long been dominated by the multinational United Fruit Company.
It still depends on exporting bananas, coffee and sugar for its survival – largely to the United States. Since the 1980s, it has also played a strategic role for Washington. After Nicaragua’s radical Sandinista revolution of 1979, Honduras was transformed into a military base for the US-financed contra war. Eventually this cost over 50,000 Nicaraguan lives and virtually destroyed its economy.
The 1982 constitution – which Zelaya wanted to change – was passed under the close scrutiny of the US ambassador in Honduras at the time, John Negroponte. He is a sinister figure, who later became US ambassador to Iraq after the invasion, and then Bush’s National Security Adviser.
US military aid to Honduras increased from $4m to $77m on his watch, and the US military base at Soto Cano is his legacy.
It is that connection that probably explains the Honduran coup. It clearly took President Obama by surprise. At first he added his voice to the Organisation of American States and the United Nations in condemning the coup and demanding the return of Zelaya.
Given Honduras’s absolute dependence on the US that should have been the end of the matter. But Zelaya has still not been able to return and representatives of the new “de facto” government of Roberto Micheletti have visited Washington under the auspices of Hillary Clinton and been well received by, among others, ex-presidential candidate John McCain.
At the same time Clinton has set up negotiations between Micheletti and Zelaya. This has given the new regime legitimacy it had no right to and delayed the return of Zelaya that the mass movement continues to demand.
Negroponte, his equally sinister colleague Otto Reich – George Bush’s sometime adviser on Latin America – and John McCain now reappear on the scene. All of them have worked closely with a Venezuelan lawyer called Robert Carmona-Borjas who was one of the architects of the failed 2002 coup against Chavez.
McCain in particular has been campaigning against Zelaya because of his objection to the privatisation of Honduras’s mass media. And both he and Reich speak for the interests of the giant media corporation AT&T.
More importantly, as a group they represent Bush’s strategy for Latin America – backing repressive regimes like Colombia, attacking progressive movements like Aristide’s in Haiti, and mounting a sustained political attack on Venezuela and Bolivia.
Honduras itself is not very significant strategically. But if the Bush clique can push Obama into negotiation with the new right wing regime there, with what seems like the willing help of Hillary Clinton, this will lay the foundation for a new US strategy in the region – and for its increasing involvement in Latin American affairs.
The popular organisations of Honduras have seen this most clearly and chosen to resist it with all their strength.