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Gunfire, Tear Gas in Honduran Capital

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Gunfire, the smell of burning tires, and tear gas woke me up this morning. Tegucigalpa's Palmira neighborhood erupted into violence at around 5 in the morning. Demonstrators were gathered throughout the night on the street below my hotel balcony, where I stood watching tires burn in the middle of the road. Lightning flashed behind the Tegucigalpa hills but there was a dryness in the air forbidding any possibility of rain, which might have driven protesters back home, but did bring a feeling of combustibility to Honduras' capital city.

The electricity was out all night in the Palmira neighborhood, which houses most of the country's embassies including the Brazilian embassy where former president Manuel Zelaya is thought to be ensconced. Local reports say the electricity was cut to prevent the poorer neighborhoods, who watch pro-Zelaya Canal 36 news channel, from getting access to TV. However, given that Zelaya is said to still be in Palmira it might have also been a government effort to keep him as quiet as possible.

Despite this effort and the nearly black darkness, around 4,000 people were gathered near the embassy at the peak of the evening. "Resistencia" demonstrators used cars and trucks to block off the streets leading to Brazil's embassy. Youth went around late into the night shouting and smashing windows. There were no police at all during the night or late afternoon yesterday to control any of this -- presumably the government was hoping for a fizzle. This morning, however, I watched as roughly 50 riot police rushed at demonstrators to push them out of Palmira.

Most of the police were armed with batons but some were carrying what looked like assault rifles (but might have been tear gas launchers). The rush was preceded by a spatter of gunfire, an almost high-pitch popping that was unmistakably different in timber and frequency than the loud bangs of fireworks which are common in Central America.

A few demonstrators defiantly walked back towards the Brazilian embassy after the first wave of police, who were armed only with riot shields and were picking up chunks of rubble to hurl at the demonstrators. But a second wave of riot police, better armed than the first, ran down the street and drove off the remaining demonstrators with billy clubs.

Behind all of this, rising up in the hills, a low-hanging mist mingled with the remaining smoke of tire fire and tear gas. The day outside is now crystalline, with a calm in the air that is almost mocking given the violent and tense atmosphere of the city which is clearly not moving in any kind of ebb.

People are busy around my hotel, something which lends a sense of security and normality especially when compared with the chaos of the night. But even now it feels like a false calm. However, for the first time in nearly 15 hours the beating of helicopters blades is out of earshot and there is finally some kind of silence in the Tegucigalpa neighborhood of Palmira.

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