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Honduras talks dead

TEGUCIGALPA, Oct 23 – Negotiators for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said in a midnight statement that 16 days of dialogue with the de facto government had failed and talks were now dead.

Zelaya had set a deadline of midnight Thursday for the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti to accept his return to power, and had vowed to break off negotiations if the regime failed to agree.

The deposed president was ousted in a military coup on June 28, and has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy here since making a surprise return to the country in September.

"We consider the dialogue has been exhausted, we cannot continue to give deadlines," said Mayra Mejia, a member of Zelaya’s negotiating team.

Zelaya’s ouster prompted concern throughout the region, and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias headed up efforts to seek a peaceful end to the political crisis.

He drew up the so-called San Jose Accord that includes as a central condition the return of Zelaya to office until the end of his term in January.

But Micheletti’s government has steadfastly opposed Zelaya’s return, extending a crisis that has divided the country, one of the poorest in the region.

On Thursday, Zelaya’s chief negotiator Victor Meza issued the midnight deadline and called on Micheletti to take heed of international calls for Zelaya’s reinstatement, including from the United States, which has taken a series of punitive measures against the de facto regime.

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"We’re not prepared to allow the putschist regime to use the talks as a tool to delay a solution, to postpone a way out of the crisis, to play for time. The dictatorship is stealing time from the Honduran democracy," Meza said.

But Micheletti’s camp was unmoved by the deadline.

"This committee, having categorically rejected the 12 midnight ultimatum… states that our answer or counteroffer will be presented tomorrow at 10:00am (1600 GMT) Friday," said Micheletti negotiator Vilma Morales.

In his midnight statement, Mejia said that any new proposals from Micheletti’s negotiators would have to be submitted to OAS representatives who have assisted with the talks.

But he added that Zelaya’s camp would not consider any offer that did not include his return to office.

The San Jose Accord that the ousted leader wants implemented would see elections go ahead as scheduled on November 29 to pick a successor who would take office at the end of Zelaya’s term in January.

Zelaya is constitutionally prohibited from serving another term and his attempts to seek a constitutional referendum to abolish term limits contributed to the military coup that ousted him.

The Micheletti government has indicated it plans to go ahead with the election, but regional governments, including the United States, have warned they will not recognize the result if Zelaya is not returned to office.

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