Honduras Congress rejects Zelaya’s reinstatement

A majority in the Honduran Congress have voted against reinstating deposed President Manuel Zelaya and allowing him to finish out his term of office.

A simple majority of 65 lawmakers in the 128-member body voted against Zelaya’s return to the presidency shortly before 730 pm (0130 GMT) on Wednesday after more than six hours of debate.

At that point, only nine lawmakers had voted for Zelaya’s return to office.

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Interim leader revokes emergency decree

Honduras’ de facto leader Roberto Micheletti  has lifted an emergency decree imposed after the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The decree had curbed civil liberties and forced the closure of two media outlets loyal to Zelaya.

AFP – The coup-backed government in Honduras on Monday lifted a decree restricting civil rights, in a step toward dialogue with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who is still holed up in Brazil’s embassy.

“We’ve abolished the decree in the Council of Ministers,” de facto leader Roberto Micheletti told a news conference here.

Micheletti had imposed the 45-day decree suspending freedom of movement, assembly and speech on September 27, using it to shut down two opposition media outlets and stamp out protests by supporters of Zelaya.

The clampdown followed the surprise return home of Zelaya on September 21, almost three months after the June 28 coup.

Micheletti said earlier that he had decided to “totally annul” the decree because calm was returning to the country and because of the negative reaction of the international community.

Zelaya had joined calls for the decree be lifted ahead of talks between members of the two camps brokered by the Organization of American States (OAS), expected to start this week.

The talks were set to discuss an accord proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which includes Zelaya’s brief reinstatement and elections for his successor.

Zelaya called Monday on the de facto government to “immediately” sign the Arias proposal, although Micheletti has long resisted because it would return to Zelaya to power.

But Micheletti hinted at a possible return for Zelaya in an interview Monday, underlining that that legal considerations would first have to be taken into account.

The de facto leaders are seeking to arrest Zelaya on a string of charges including treason and corruption.

“If there are transparent elections in the country and we elect a new president, we can talk about any scenario, any solution,” Micheletti said.

Many international observers want polls scheduled for November 29 to go ahead.

Foreign ministers from the pan-American OAS and Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza were due in Honduras Wednesday in the new push for dialogue.

Zelaya told AFP in a telephone interview on Sunday from the Brazilian embassy that 90 percent of the issues holding up negotiations “have been resolved.”

Zelaya is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, but under the current proposal, he would resume the presidency until an elected successor took office in January.

Soldiers ousted Zelaya amid a dispute with the country’s elite over his plans to change the constitution, which many saw as a bid to seek a second term.

The International Monetary Fund on Monday said it would consider a request to assist the impoverished Central American nation, which has seen investments dry up this year, only after political stability was restored.

The United States, IMF and other international backers have frozen millions of dollars in loans and aid to Honduras over the crisis.

Interim leader says met OAS chief, ready for talks

REUTERS Honduran de facto president, Roberto Micheletti said on Friday he had recently held talks in Honduras with Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza over how to end a post-coup crisis.
Micheletti said he was ready to sit down for talks over the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, but did not say whether he would met directly with the deposed leader. An OAS mission arrived in Tegucigalpa on Friday to start negotiations.
“We are ready to sit down,” Micheletti said. “We are in conversations.”

Protests grow in favour of Zelaya

Protests mounted here Saturday, as thousands of supporters of deposed President Manuel Zelaya took to the streets 90 days after his ouster and hopes faded for a way out of a tense standoff in the nation’s capital.

After thousands marched to the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya has been holed up since Monday, hundreds more took part in a vehicle protest, hanging out car windows, honking horns and waving Honduran flags as they drove through a main axis of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

A top diplomat leaving the Brazilian embassy denounced the state of “siege,” with troops lined up around the compound.

“It’s the only place in the world where there’s an embassy under siege,” said Francisco Catunda, the Brazilian charge d’affaires, as he left the building for the first time since Zelaya appeared there at the start of the week.

“You can’t imagine how many papers, checks and negotiations I had to undergo so that I, the charge d’affaires of Brazil, could leave,” Catunda told reporters indignantly.

Most people inside the embassy were in good health, Catunda said, adding that one Brazilian diplomat told him he had smelled gas the previous day, after Zelaya accused the army of trying to poison him and some 60 people still inside the compound by pumping noxious gases into the building — a charge roundly denied by Honduran officials.

The UN Security Council on Friday warned the de facto authorities not to harass the embassy.

Demonstrators have come daily to the embassy compound, which is surrounded by anti-riot police and soldiers, to show their support for the embattled head of state.

“Thanks, Brazil, for protecting Mel from this vile regime,” one banner read, using the popular nickname given to Zelaya.

Many said that Zelaya’s surprise return to the country on Monday — nearly three months after he was ousted in a dispute over his plans to change the constitution — had strengthened his support.

“The coup leaders have more pressure to negotiate” now, union leader Juan Barahona told AFP.

European Union countries however decided to send back their envoys who were withdrawn after the coup, the Swedish EU presidency said Saturday.

It added that the return of the ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy and Spain would in no way imply recognition of the country’s de facto government.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Friday that Zelaya “could stay as long as necessary for his safety” in the Brazilian embassy.

The de facto leaders have insisted the compound will not be taken by force and denied they were responsible for initial power and water cuts.

A daytime curfew was lifted Thursday and airports reopened, allowing businesses to resume and providing relief to an increasingly frustrated public. A nighttime curfew remained in place.

Initial hopes after tentative offers for dialogue by both Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti have quickly faded, and on Saturday, at a meeting of African and South American leaders taking place on Venezuela’s Isla Margarita, Brazil’s president cautioned against “backsliding” on democracy in Honduras and throughout Latin America.

“We fought hard to sweep military dictatorships into the trash can of history, we can not allow these kind of setbacks in our continent,” he said.

“This is an important issue for us South Americans at the dawn of a century shaped by democracy and multilateralism,” he told the gathering of leaders from 60 Latin American and African nations.

The United Nations on Wednesday froze its technical support for presidential polls scheduled for November, which appeared increasingly challenging to organize. Zelaya’s term ends in January.

A police spokesman told AFP Wednesday that two people had been killed in pro-Zelaya protests since the start of the week, and rights groups have voiced concern about clampdowns on demonstrators and local media.

Hitmen on a motorcycle shot dead a mayoral candidate from a small centrist party in the Honduran capital Saturday, a police spokesman told AFP. The police ruled out a link with the country’s political unrest.

Zelaya, a rancher who veered to the left after his election and alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was ousted from power in a military-backed coup in June.

EU countries send envoys back to Honduras

European Union countries have decided to send back their envoys to Honduras to help resolve the crisis following the ousting of the country’s president, the Swedish EU presidency said Saturday.

But it added that the move in no way implied recognition of the country’s de facto government.

The ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy and Spain were withdrawn in protest after President Manuel Zelaya was expelled from the country by soldiers three months ago amid a dispute over his plans to change the constitution, and Roberto Micheletti took control.

Zelaya made a suprise return to Honduras on Monday and has since been holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa with some 60 other people as soldiers surround the building and his supporters demonstrate on the streets.

Sweden said the return of the ambassadors was an important step in helping to restore constitutional order and a diplomatic process in Honduras.

But the situation appeared deadlocked after the de facto rulers said they were not ready to meet with a delegation of central American diplomats hoping to help mediate the crisis.

“Honduran politics are not a threat to international peace and security, and, as a consequence, there should be a Honduran solution” to the stalemate, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pro-Zelaya protester killed in clash

A man was shot dead in a clash between police and supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, as international pressure mounted on the de facto government to allow the leftist back in power.

It was the first reported death in political violence since Zelaya, who was forced into exile by a June 28 coup, slipped back into Honduras this week and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy.

The man, a Zelaya supporter aged 65, was killed in the poor Flor del Campo district of the capital  on Tuesday night, a source at the coroner’s office said. Five other pro-Zelaya protesters were shot and wounded in another part of the city, a doctor at the Escuela hospital said.

Zelaya snuck back into Honduras on Monday, ending almost three months of exile after he was toppled in the coup and bringing the world’s attention to his cause again.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police, some in ski masks and toting automatic weapons, have surrounded the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya is sheltering with his family and a group of about 40 supporters.

Brazil and Venezuela called at the United Nations for Zelaya, a former rancher and timber magnate who took office in 2006, to be returned to power.

Troops and police, some firing tear gas, cleared away pro-Zelaya demonstrators from around the embassy on Tuesday and security forces’ helicopters flew over the building throughout the night. Witnesses said soldiers blasted loud noise from speakers toward the embassy to try to keep Zelaya and his backers inside awake.

The government that has ruled Honduras since Zelaya’s overthrow relaxed a curfew that had been in effect day and night since Monday.

Large lines formed at stores in the capital as residents stocked up on water and basic foods. State-run television broadcast frequent messages from the de facto government warning that Zelaya would be responsible for any violent acts.

“We ask the whole population to maintain calm and keep order and peace throughout the country,” it said in a communique read out with the blue and white Honduran flag waving in the background.

Honduras is a major coffee producer but output has not been affected by the crisis.

“5 to 10 years”

De facto leader Roberto Micheletti said Zelaya could stay in the embassy “for 5 to 10 years” if he wanted, hinting that the pro-coup administration is getting ready for a long standoff. Electricity and water was briefly cut to the embassy on Tuesday but food was sent in, witnesses said.

The United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States have urged dialogue to bring Zelaya back to office in the Central American country.

The Honduras crisis has been U.S. President Barack Obama’s most serious challenge so far in Latin America and he has been criticized by regional governments for not taking a tough enough stance to reverse the coup despite cutting some aid.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called at the U.N. General Assembly in New York for Zelaya to be reinstated.

“The international community demands that Mr. Zelaya immediately return to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil’s diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras,” Lula said, drawing applause from the hall.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist ally of Zelaya, told reporters in New York that the United Nations should demand Zelaya be put back in power.

A U.S. official said the de facto government in Honduras signaled it was willing to allow a visit by an Organization of American States mission to try to resolve the crisis, but the pro-coup rulers have insisted they will not allow Zelaya back to power.

“Zelaya will never return to be president of this country,” Micheletti said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.

The leaders of the coup, backed by the country’s military, Supreme Court and Congress, insist Zelaya must face trial for violating the constitution, and have said Brazil must turn him over to Honduran authorities or give him political asylum outside the country.

“I’m really worried about the situation because it doesn’t seem like they are resolving anything through dialogue. Instead there is just disorder and chaos,” said 32-year-old Tegucigalpa resident Karen Agustia.

Soldiers toppled Zelaya at gunpoint and sent him into exile in his pajamas after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, saying he had broken the law by pushing for constitutional reforms that critics say were an attempt to change presidential term limits and extend his rule. Zelaya denies the allegations.