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Blood in Tegucigalpa

Ground truth in Honduras: A "bloodless" coup takes a deadly turn.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A series of makeshift memorials on the road around the rugged airport give morbid clues to the bloodshed that shook this city Sunday.

Close to the fence shielding the runways is a wooden crucifix and portrait of Jesus above a huge patch of dry red blood on the concrete.

Ten yards away, a circle surrounds a chunk of skull the size of an apple.

Two more yards ahead, lays a golden M16 bullet, that had fired straight through the head of the 19-year-old victim, hurling part of his cranium more than 30 feet from his body.

The shooting at protesters by soldiers that killed at least one, marks a bloody turn in the Honduras putsch that has polarized this poor Central American nation and sparked international condemnation.

For the first week since soldiers flew elected leftist President Manuel Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint, the power shift could be accurately termed a “bloodless coup.”

But when Zelaya attempted to fly back into the country in a small jet, troops shot live ammunition into the crowd to keep control of the airport so they could stop the ousted president landing.

Such use of troops against protesters — a tactic that has not been seen in this sweltering republic since the bad old days of the Cold War — raises fears the dispute over the presidency could give way to a drawn out and violent conflict.

“The soldiers shot at peaceful protesters without regard for human life,” said teacher and protest leader Luis Sosa, standing with a shaken crowd after the barrage of gunfire. “This shows that the regime of coup leaders has taken a violent and authoritarian direction.”

The de facto government blames the ousted president and his determination to return to his homeland for the confrontation.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti had announced earlier Sunday that Zelaya, who planned to fly in with the presidents of Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador, would not be given permission to land and the other heads of state were not welcome.

“No other president is going to come here in this impetuous form,” he said. “We have our sovereign borders.”

But Zelaya called the bluff of his nemesis and brashly zoomed into Honduran airspace.

Tens of thousands of his supporters had massed to welcome him at the airport, in the biggest show of his strength since he was forced out of power a week earlier.