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Army Ousts Honduras President In Vote Dispute

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -- The Honduran army ousted President Manuel Zelaya and threw him out of the country on June 28 in Central America's first military coup since the Cold War, after he upset the army by trying to win reelection.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed deep concern after troops came for Zelaya, an ally of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, at dawn and took him away from his residence.

A military plane flew Zelaya to Costa Rica and CNN's Spanish-language channel said he had asked for asylum there.

Police fired tear gas at pro-government protesters in the capital, Honduran radio said, and two fighter jets screamed through the sky over the capital.

The impoverished Central American country had been politically stable since the end of military rule in the early 1980s, but Zelaya's push to change the constitution to allow him another term has split the country's institutions.

Zelaya fired military chief General Romeo Vasquez last week for refusing to help him run an unofficial referendum on June 28on extending the four-year term limit on Honduran presidents.

Zelaya told Venezuela-based Telesur television station that he was "kidnapped" by soldiers and called on Hondurans to peacefully resist the coup.

Pro-Zelaya demonstrators gathered at the presidential palace, which was surrounded by soldiers.

"Here, the people are angry," said protester Boris Vanyas.

The EU condemned the coup and Obama called for calm.

Honduras was a staunch U.S. ally in the 1980s when Washington helped Central American governments fight left-wing guerrillas.

"Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference," Obama said.

It was the first successful military ouster of a president in Central America since the Cold War era.

Honduras's Supreme Court last week came out against Zelaya and ordered him to reinstate fired military chief Vasquez.

The global economic crisis has curbed growth in Honduras, which lives off coffee and textile exports and remittances from Honduran workers abroad. Recent opinion polls indicate public support for Zelaya has fallen as low as 30 percent.

Honduras, home to around 7 million people, is a major drug trafficking transit point.

It is also a big coffee producer but there was no immediate sign the unrest would affect production.