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Honduras president rejects high court order to reinstate fired military leader

[JURIST] Honduran President Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile] rejected a Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] decision Thursday that called for the reinstatement of a military general whom Zelaya fired Wednesday. Zelaya's decision comes amidst a controversy over a referendum on constitutional change [La Tribuna report, in Spanish] scheduled for Sunday at which the president hopes to gain supporters for drafting a new constitition. Zelaya fired General Romeo Vasquez, who served as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after learning that the military was not supporting his referendum and refused to distribute the ballots. Although Zelaya claims that the constitution currently favors the rich and elite, opponents maintain that the purpose of the change is to allow him to stay in power. The electoral tribunal, Supreme Court, and Parliament are against Zelaya's initiative, claiming that the change would be unconstitutional. The National Congress [official website, in Spanish] approved a motion [La Tribuna report, in Spanish] on Thursday to form a committee to investigate Zelaya's actions, receiving unanimous support from all four parties holding a congressional bench. One lawmaker claimed that Zelaya's intention to stay in power has long been known in the country.

Absent a change allowing him to run for re-election, Zelaya's term ends in 2010. In March, Zelaya announced [JURIST report] that he would conduct a poll to determine the public receptiveness to the referendum. Under his leadership, Honduras has joined Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) [RIE backgrounder] trade bloc, which was founded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In recent years, Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa [JURIST reports] have succeeded in passing constitutional reforms extending presidential terms and enhancing presidential powers.

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