ANALYSIS-De facto Honduran govt stalls for time before election

Source: Reuters

(For full coverage of Honduras crisis, click on [nHONDURAS]) * De facto leaders harden against Zelaya return * Analysts see a play for time ahead of elections * Zelaya says recognition of vote would set bad example By Mica Rosenberg TEGUCIGALPA, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Honduras’ de facto leaders are hunkering down to stay in power until a November election, tightening controls on protests and grinding down ousted President Manuel Zelaya by blasting his refuge with rock music. With Central America’s worst political crisis in years now in its fourth month, talks between Zelaya’s camp and that of de facto ruler Roberto Micheletti are stalled with no sign of compromise on the main sticking point: returning the toppled leftist to power temporarily as part of a solution. Micheletti is drumming up support for the Nov. 29 election, saying it is the only way to end the deadlock sparked by a June 28 army coup that is testing U.S. President Barack Obama’s seriousness about wanting better relations with Latin America. So far, Washington has taken a backseat role in resolving the crisis and let regional leaders and the Organization of American States take the lead. The de facto government hopes the November vote will be recognized by foreign governments, bringing Honduras back into the fold of the international community after it was denounced for sending soldiers to roust Zelaya from his bed and fly him into exile. With or without an agreement to resolve the crisis, Micheletti’s camp says the vote will move forward. “Whatever happens with these negotiations, the elections are the way out of this crisis,” said Marcia Facusse, a congresswoman from Micheletti’s Liberal Party and a close ally of the caretaker leader picked by Congress. Zelaya, a ranching and logging magnate, split his Liberal Party by moving closer to Venezuela’s hardline socialist President Hugo Chavez during his term, which is set to end in January. If dialogue between the two sides fails, Zelaya will be left in the lurch. He has been camped out at the Brazilian Embassy for a month with his family and a handful of followers and journalists since he snuck back into Honduras last month. This week the army set up giant speakers to blast the embassy through a full night with loud, grating noise ranging from military band music to pig grunts and imposed new controls on street protests, which are mainly pro-Zelaya. DANGEROUS BET The United States suspended military aid to Honduras and froze visas of key figures in the coup but analysts say the pressure is not enough to force Micheletti to back down. “I would be really surprised if they reinstate Zelaya because they have been so incredibly recalcitrant and truthfully there is no pressure on them to do otherwise,” said Central America expert Christine Wade at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Recognizing the elections for political expediency could set a dangerous precedent for the volatile region, she said. Zelaya also opposes going ahead with the November election without a prior solution. “Holding elections under these conditions is opening the door to coups,” he told a local television station by telephone. “It’s an aberration.” The Supreme Court, backed by Congress, ordered Zelaya’s June ouster, saying he violated the constitution by seeking to reform the constitution to allow presidential re-election. Zelaya denies the charge but the coup backers argue he was legally stripped of his powers and cannot come back. Meanwhile, the election campaign is moving along in full swing, with the leading candidates from Zelaya and Micheletti’s Liberal Party and the main opposition National Party airing peppy spots, holding rallies and talking to the local press. “They are waiting for international opinion to fracture, until more and more countries see recognizing the elections as the most acceptable alternative,” said Armando Sarmiento, the former tax chief in Zelaya’s finance ministry said. Sarmiento said the de facto leaders might be looking to the example of the African country of Mauritania where the leader of an internationally chided military coup won an election this year and was quickly recognized by France. But human rights groups accuse the de facto rulers of major abuses, including deaths, and say a free and fair election is impossible after Micheletti temporarily shut down pro-Zelaya media and banned protests with an executive decree last month. “The elections are not a magic wand that will solve the country’s problems. Those who believe that are wrong,” Honduran political analyst Efrain Diaz said. (Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera and Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Eric Beech)
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