Honduras de facto ruler to meet opponents

Wed Oct 7, 2009 12:57pm EDT

By Frank Jack Daniel

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – The de facto leader of Honduras was to meet foreign diplomats and envoys of ousted President Manuel Zelaya on Wednesday, raising hopes of progress in breaking a crisis triggered by an army coup in June.

Foreign ministers and diplomats from the Organization of American States flew into the capital Tegucigalpa for the highest-level talks yet to take place inside the poor country known for its coffee, bananas and volatile politics.

Talks were scheduled to start mid-morning between representatives of Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, who took power after the June 28 putsch and wants his rival jailed.

Zelaya is holed up in the Brazilian embassy, surrounded by troops, and will not be at the talks. He is skeptical about his rival’s intentions and says Micheletti only agreed to the visit by ministers from Mexico, Central America and Ecuador to gain legitimacy.

“We request a clarification of the complacent and soft attitude of the OAS delegates toward the de facto regime, adhering to the Micheletti’s agenda without taking into account the legitimate president’s opinion,” he said on Wednesday.

Micheletti said political amnesty was on the table but did not mention a return to office for Zelaya as the United States and other countries have pressured for with cuts in aid.

On Tuesday, Zelaya said a solution to Central America’s worst political crisis in years was still possible but not “very near.” He said his restitution was “not negotiable.”

The de facto government says the ouster of leftist logging magnate Zelaya, forced from his bed into exile at gunpoint, was legal because he had violated the constitution. They say he planned to try and stay in office longer than his term, an allegation he denies.

PROTEST VIOLENCE

Honduras has a presidential election scheduled for November 29 but critics say curbs on media and public gatherings imposed by Micheletti mean the campaign will not be fair.

Rights groups have criticized abuses by gun and club-wielding soldiers and police, and the election result may not be recognized without a prior agreement including Zelaya.

Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, risks arrest if he leaves the embassy hideout where he has lived since slipping back into Honduras two weeks ago.

Coups and military governments were common in Honduras for much of the 20th Century. U.S. banana importer Sam Zemurray helped bring President Manuel Bonilla back to power in 1912 in return for favorable business conditions.

Pro-Zelaya protests since his return to Honduras led to clashes with security forces that caused dozens of injuries and the death of at least one protester. Honduran rights group Cofradeh says 10 Zelaya supporters have been killed since June in violence linked to the coup.

Talks will likely center on proposals drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias who mediated earlier in the crisis. The proposals call for Zelaya’s reinstatement and a unity government until the scheduled November 29 elections.

Micheletti has agreed to lift the restrictions on media and social freedoms that he imposed after Zelaya slipped back into the country but two pro-Zelaya media companies that had gear confiscated by masked soldiers are still off the air and curbs on protests remain in place.

(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia, Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Ignacio Badal; Editing by Kieran Murray)

[original]

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