New mediation bid for tense Honduras

September 24, 2009 12:00 am

, TEGUCIGALPA,Sept 24 – A new international bid to resolve the tense Honduras standoff between two presidents was set in motion on Wednesday, as the country’s deposed leader, Manuel Zelaya, waited out a seige of the Brazilian embassy.

Police said that two men had been killed in clashes since Zelaya’s surprise return on Monday, and protests to support him continued to grow.

Hundreds of Hondurans, meanwhile, flocked to gas stations and supermarkets to stock up during a brief respite from a nationwide curfew imposed by the Central American nation’s de facto leaders.

The Organization of American States (OAS) said it would send a new mediation mission to Honduras at the weekend, including ambassadors withdrawn after the June 28 coup.

"The de facto government told us that they are ready to receive the mission," OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told reporters in New York.

The United Nations, meanwhile, suspended its technical support for November presidential elections.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon did not believe "conditions are currently in place for the holding of credible elections that would advance peace and stability," his office said in a statement.

Neither Zelaya nor Roberto Micheletti, the de facto leader, were to stand in the elections but the interim government is seeking to hold onto its slippery grip on power until then to keep Zelaya out of office.

Zelaya’s return to Honduras in secrecy almost three months after he was ousted threw the impoverished country into chaos and drew international attention as world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York.

The deposed president, along with scores of his supporters, journalists and embassy staff, remained sequestered inside the embassy, which was running short on food and hit by temporary cuts in electricity, water and telephone lines.

Zelaya told AFP from inside the embassy that he sought face-to-face talks with Micheletti on restoring his presidency.

"That’s the goal, to talk personally with him — not only with him, but also with the political and economic groups in the country," Zelaya said.

Micheletti offered late Tuesday to hold direct talks with Zelaya if he recognized the validity of the November 29 elections, but the ousted leader dismissed that offer as "manipulation."

Thousands of red-clad Zelaya supporters poured onto the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa Wednesday in one of the largest pro-Zelaya demonstrations since the president’s June 28 ouster.

One man died Wednesday in hospital after being injured in clashes with anti-riot police the previous night, said Orlin Cerrato, spokesman for the National Police. Another died in unknown circumstances in a protest against the coup, he added.

A curfew went back into force overnight to 6:00 am (1200 GMT) Thursday, according to radio and TV channels.

In New York, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner called for a "strong, precise multilateral strategy" to return democracy to Honduras.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva demanded that Zelaya be restored to power immediately, and Brazil has asked the UN Security Council to take up the Honduran crisis.

The country’s embassy now lies at the center of a tense waiting game to see how long the occupants can hold out.

Most access to the embassy had been denied, although US embassy vehicles removed some Brazilian staff on Tuesday.

Honduran writer Milton Benitez, a staunch Zelaya supporter in the embassy, complained of deteriorating conditions.

"We’re still wearing the same clothing, we haven’t been able to bathe," Benitez said, calling the conditions "sub-human."

Some exhausted Zelaya supporters inside stood guard all night long, wary of a possible attack on the building by troops, though Micheletti’s government Tuesday insisted the compound would not be taken by force.

The European Union told the interim government to respect the "physical integrity" of Zelaya and the inviolability of the embassy.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, expressed alarm at the escalating tension in Honduras, saying human rights and the rule of law were at "grave risk."

The deposed president veered to the left after his election to a single term in 2005, influenced by fellow leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The army sent Zelaya into exile at gunpoint, backed by the country’s courts and congress, amid a fierce dispute over his plans to change the constitution.


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