Soldiers surround the presidential residency in Tegucigalpa.

Soldiers surround the presidential residency in Tegucigalpa. (June 28, 2009)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- A military coup has divided Honduras between two leaders — one recognized by world bodies and another backed by the country's congress, courts and military.

Presidents from around Latin America were gathering in Nicaragua for meetings Monday on how to resolve the first coup in Central America in 16 years, while the European Union offered to help start talks between the two sides.

Once again, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took center stage, casting the dispute as a rebellion by the region's poor.

"If the oligarchies break the rules of the game as they have done, the people have the right to resistance and combat, and we are with them," Chavez said in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

There is a deep rift between the outside world — which is clamoring for the return of democratically elected, but largely unpopular and soon-to-leave-office President Manuel Zelaya — and congressionally designated successor Roberto Micheletti.

Micheletti rejected any outside interference and declared a two-night curfew, while Chavez vowed that "we will overthrow (Micheletti)."

Zelaya was seized by soldiers and hustled aboard a plane to Costa Rica early Sunday, just hours before a rogue referendum Zelaya had called in defiance of the courts and Congress, and which his opponents said was an attempt to remain in power after his term ends Jan. 27.

The Honduran constitution limits presidents to a single 4-year term, and Zelaya's opponents feared he would use the referendum results to try to run again, just as Chavez reformed his country's constitution to be able to seek re-election repeatedly.

Micheletti said the army acted on orders from the courts, and the ouster was carried out "to defend respect for the law and the principles of democracy." But he threatened to jail Zelaya and put him on trial if he returned. Micheletti also hit back at Chavez, saying "nobody, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chavez, has any right to threaten this country."

Earlier, Obama said in a statement he was "deeply concerned" about the events, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya's arrest should be condemned.

"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama's statement read.

For those conditions to be met, Zelaya must be returned to power, U.S. officials said.

Two senior Obama administration officials told reporters that U.S. diplomats were working to ensure Zelaya's safe return.

The officials said the Obama administration in recent days had warned Honduran power players, including the armed forces, that the U.S. would not support a coup, but Honduran military leaders stopped taking their calls.

In Brussels, the EU's External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner urged "all parties involved to resolve their differences peacefully." She said the EU's executive Commission "stands ready" to help start the talks.

Officials said EU envoys were meeting their Central American counterparts in Brussels Monday to discuss the coup and what implications it could have on free trade negotiations between the EU and Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

EU nations refused to recognize the coup and demanded a return of the deposed president.

Zelaya said soldiers seized him in his pajamas at gunpoint in what he called a "coup" and a "kidnapping." The United Nations, the Organization of American States and governments throughout Latin America called for Zelaya to be allowed to resume office.

"I want to return to my country. I am president of Honduras," Zelaya said Sunday before traveling to Managua on one of Chavez's planes for regional meetings of Central American leaders and Chavez's leftist alliance of nations, known as ALBA.