, TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 8 – After nine days of protests set off by a military coup, Honduras’ ousted president and interim leader have agreed to meet this week for dialogue mediated by Costa Rica.
Deposed president Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti both backed the choice of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace prize winner, to lead negotiations.
Arias said that the two foes would start two-day talks in his house in San Jose on Thursday.
"It seems to me that there is willingness on both sides to seek a negotiated settlement through diplomacy, through dialogue," Arias told the regional television network.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the Costa Rican mediation bid after meeting with Zelaya in Washington, but stopped short of demanding he be reinstated as urged by the White House.
Zelaya’s meeting with the US administration came amid increasing pressure on the Honduran leaders who deposed him on June 28 over his plans to change the constitution.
"There needs to be a specific mediator and, to that end, we are supporting the efforts of President Arias of Costa Rica to serve in this important role," Clinton told reporters.
Clinton also said Zelaya had agreed to negotiations without preconditions on his future role.
When asked if she backed his return, Clinton said she hoped for "a restoration of democratic, constitutional order" and a "peaceful resolution to this unfortunate situation."
Honduras’ interim leaders insist they took power in a "constitutional succession," not a coup, and accuse Zelaya of a string of crimes, including corruption and failing to implement laws.
Earlier Tuesday, they hinted for the first time at a possible exit to the crisis.
Zelaya — who the army prevented from landing in the capital Tegucigalpa during violent protests Sunday — could return if Congress grants him amnesty, a Supreme Court spokesman told AFP.
"The only one with the power to give amnesty is the Congress," said Danilo Izaguirre, spokesman for the court.
But both leaders also maintained their hard-line positions, despite agreeing to meet.
"We’re not going to negotiate, we’re going to talk," Micheletti told a news conference.
Zelaya said the meeting was not to negotiate, but to plan "the exit of the coup leaders."
But Zelaya said he would agree to advance elections due in November if he returned to power.
Zelaya’s wife led demonstrations in his favour on Tuesday, out in public for the first time since taking refuge in the US embassy after her husband was ousted.
Thousands of supporters of the interim government also took to the streets in a demonstration for peace.
The airport was set to re-open Wednesday for the first time since Zelaya’s return attempt Sunday, but a curfew was still in place.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned "excessive force" by authorities quelling the protests, after two deaths in weekend clashes with the army.
The 34-member Organization of American States suspended Honduras at an emergency session over the weekend.
International pressure on the Central American nation also includes a freeze on aid, the recalling of ambassadors and temporary trade embargoes.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s key backer, said he has suspended shipments of oil, while the United States has placed all military activities with Honduras on hold until further notice.
Night curfews — which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution — and media blackouts continue meanwhile to heighten tensions in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.