Honduran police fire tear gas at supporters of ousted president; 1 killed

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A street vendor died Thursday from inhaling tear gas fired by police against hundreds of supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Separately, gunmen killed the government's deputy director of transportation — the latest in a string of assassinations in a country plagued with political turmoil and rampant crime.

The police used tear gas and a water cannon to break up the demonstration Wednesday in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. The police chased some of the protesters into an opposition radio station, whose employees were forced to evacuate because of the tear gas.

Efrain Hernandez, 66, died in the hospital Thursday, police said in a statement. Hernandez, who sold lottery tickets in the area, had asthma. Three others were hurt, including one person struck in the face with a tear gas canister.

Police spokesman Hector Mejia said the demonstrators were intimidating a group of students participating in a government-organized march to mark the 189th anniversary of Honduras' independence from Spain.

The protesters — some of whom were students themselves — denied that, saying police attacked without provocation.

"Dozens of students were savagely beaten," said Orfilia Mejia, a former opposition congresswoman and mother of Aristides Mejia, the vice president under Zelaya.

Zelaya was ousted in a June 2009 coup in a dispute over changing the Honduran Constitution. He was replaced by an interim government, which in January handed over power to Porfirio Lobo, the president elected in November elections that had been scheduled before Zelaya's ouster.

Zelaya supporters have kept up demonstrations to demand his return from exile in the Dominican Republic. Lobo has said Zelaya is welcome to return to Honduras, but must face charges of fraud, usurping other institutions' powers and falsifying documents.

During the protest Wednesday, police chased several demonstrators into the offices of Radio Uno, even as employees of the station fled outside as the tear gas wafted in.

Radio Uno director Arnulfo Aguilar said police hurled objects that broke the station's windows and beat one of his employees unconscious.

The police listed the employee, Ernesto Bardales, as one of the three injured.

"This is a repressive act by the Lobo's coup government, which we will denounce to the world," Aguilar said.

Defense Minister Marlon Pascua said the Zelaya supporters were trying to infiltrate and disrupt the government-organized march.

"We didn't repress anybody," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Transportation Director Rosel Quinonez was killed Thursday night as he got out of his car in the northern city of La Ceiba.

Authorities had no information on a possible motive. Quinonez, 46, was a longtime politician in Lobo's National Party.

"We regret that these sort of actions are happening in Honduras," Transport Director Blas Ramos said in a news conference. "We feel besieged and sad."

Dozens of politicians, journalists, activists, security officials, businessmen and lawyers have been killed in recent years in Honduras.

The vast majority of those cases have gone unresolved, although authorities suspect a myriad of motives in an impoverished country of persistent political unrest and a soaring homicide rate fueled by drug trafficking.