Ousted Honduran leader calls charges persecution

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - Former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya said Thursday that new corruption charges brought against him by Honduras’ newly elected government amount to political persecution.

Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup last June, said in a statement from the Dominican Republic - where he has taken refuge - that the charges undermine efforts to promote national reconciliation following the coup that ousted him.

He said the charges "seek personal revenge and worsen the political persecution against me, forgetting national reconciliation."

Honduras’ anti-corruption prosecutor is seeking to charge Zelaya with allegedly diverting $1.5 million in welfare funds to his campaign for a referendum on reforming the constitution.

Zelaya defied a Supreme Court order to drop plans for the vote, and he already faces abuse of power and treason charges over his defiance of the Supreme Court order.

The proposed referendum - which some saw as an attempt by Zelaya to grab power - helped spark the June 28 coup.

In his statement, Zelaya expressed anger that the military chiefs who participated in the coup have been absolved while he faces more criminal charges.

The military chief of staff whose soldiers hustled Zelaya out of the country aboard an airplane was replaced Thursday. Gen. Romeo Vasquez, who Zelaya tried to dismiss as head of the joint chiefs of staff, retired, and President Porfirio Lobo swore in Gen. Carlos Cuellas as his replacement.

Meanwhile, thousands of Zelaya supporters marched through the capital Thursday to protest economic suffering and demand the government pay back wages owed to teachers.

Zelaya’s backers once drew tens of thousands to protest marches, but their numbers dwindled after the interim government - which left office in January - declared curfews and temporarily shuttered some pro-Zelaya media outlets.

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