Leader sets conditions for exit

July 16, 2009 12:00 am

, TEGUCIGALPA, July 16 – Honduran de facto leader Roberto Micheletti said he would be prepared to step down, but only if ousted President Manuel Zelaya does not return to power.

"For peace and tranquility in the country … without the return of ex-president Zelaya, I would be ready to do it," Micheletti said.

The comments appear to be a softening of his position since talks to resolve the country’s crisis were adjourned last week.

The Central American nation has been convulsed with protests and flashes of violence since Zelaya was forced out of the country at gunpoint on June 28.

Although Micheletti has support from the Honduran military, which helped orchestrate last month’s coup, he has faced a barrage of criticism from the international community.

Since his ousting, Zelaya has tried to garner the backing of regional powers and rally his supporters back home, at one point making an abortive attempt to return and more recently calling for a popular insurrection.

"I want to tell you to not leave the streets, that is the only space that they have not taken from us," said Zelaya, speaking on Tuesday in neighboring Guatemala.

"The Honduran people have the right to insurrection," he told a news conference alongside Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom.

Zelaya described insurrection as a legitimate democratic right "when faced with a usurping government and a coup-supporting military," and urged his supporters in Honduras to strike, march and engage in civil disobedience.

Two days of talks last week mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias — who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for helping resolve Central America’s civil wars — ended without any resolution, as the coup leaders insisted they would remain in power.

Earlier Tuesday Micheletti appeared to soften his position by not excluding a face-to-face meeting with Zelaya in talks expected to resume later this week.

"He is a former president of the country, an old friend of mine, and I will very gladly hold out my hand to him when the time comes, if he wishes to do so," Micheletti said.

The de facto leader and his entourage has staunchly rejected accusations that removing Zelaya was a coup, and instead accuse the president of defying a high court ruling and ignoring the constitution.

The head of the Honduran army, General Romeo Vasquez, told AFP that Zelaya was exiled to avoid "deaths and injuries."

Honduran security services "believed it would be dangerous to imprison him," Vasquez said, adding such a move "could have caused deaths and injuries" if his supporters had tried to free him.

"The consequences for the country would have been serious," he said.


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