By Patrick Markey
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras’ de facto government on Monday resisted pressure from opponents and the international community over ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who for a week has been holed up inside the Brazilian embassy seeking a return to power.
Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup on June 28, but he secretly returned from exile last Monday, sparking a tense standoff with the de facto civilian government that has promised to arrest him on charges of treason.
Hundreds of soldiers and riot police have surrounded the embassy all week, while Zelaya urges his followers to take to the streets to demand he be restored to office in the coffee and textile producing country.
Honduras on Sunday suspended some civilian rights, gave Brazil an ultimatum to resolve Zelaya’s status or close its embassy and denied entry to an Organization of American States delegation seeking to broker a solution to the crisis.
OAS representatives will hold an extraordinary session on Monday to discuss the Honduran face-off, the worst crisis in Central America for years and a test for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama that is promising engagement with Latin America.
Honduras’ tough stance sent a clear message it would not allow the leftist Zelaya’s return to power. But the measures and threat to the embassy will likely bring further international condemnation for Honduras, which has already faced cuts in some overseas aid and funding.
“It would be a terrible mistake on the part of the de facto government, they would be condemning themselves more than they already have,” Zelaya told reporters from the embassy.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would ignore a 10-day deadline set by de facto leader Roberto Micheletti to decide on the fate of Zelaya, who is in refuge with family and supporters in the embassy.
Zelaya, a logging magnate who is rarely without his trademark cowboy hat, urged his followers to descend on the capital for the “final offensive” on Monday.
Micheletti over the weekend issued a decree allowing a ban on public protests and suspension of freedom of speech and the media because of “disturbances of the peace.”
Soldiers toppled Zelaya at gunpoint and sent him into exile in his pajamas after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. His critics say he broke the law by pushing for constitutional reforms they saw as a bid to change presidential term limits and extend his rule. Zelaya denies wanting to stay in power.
Zelaya had upset conservative elites by allying himself with Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez. He demands to be restored to power, but the de facto government says presidential elections in November will resolve the crisis.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)