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Interim government says it is open to holding early elections

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-04

Honduras’ interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti (pictured), has said it is open to early elections to resolve the impasse over ousted President Manuel Zelaya, as the Organisation of American States pushes for Zelaya's reinstatement.

REUTERS - Honduras’ interim government said on Thursday it was open to holding early elections to resolve the impasse over ousted President Manuel Zelaya, as the Organization of American States readied a mission to Honduras to push for his reinstatement.


The leader of the caretaker government, Roberto Micheletti, said holding a referendum was possible on bringing back the leftist president to serve out the last few months of his term, although it would be “difficult” to do so immediately.


Conveying a more conciliatory tone than in recent days, Micheletti told reporters he would be “in total agreement” with bringing forward a Nov. 29 presidential election.


“I have no objection if it would be a way of resolving these problems,” he said.


The OAS, which groups most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere including the United States, has given the interim leadership until Saturday to restore Zelaya or be suspended from the body.


The Honduran administration has so far rebuffed any attempts to bring back Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup last Sunday in a dispute over presidential term limits that has become the biggest political crisis in Central America since the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.


The coup in the impoverished coffee and textile exporting country of some 7 million people has created a test for regional diplomacy and for U.S. commitment to shoring up democracy in Latin America.


OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza will visit Honduras on Friday. According to Zelaya, he will deliver an ultimatum to return him to office and will not negotiate.


“We hope the coup leaders recognize the damage they are doing to the country and the world and allow the return of President Zelaya,” Insulza told Reuters in Guyana.


Honduran coup backers, headed by Micheletti, say the ouster was legal as it was ordered by the Supreme Court to stop Zelaya from seeking public support for a constitutional change to let presidents seek re-election beyond one four-year term. They say Zelaya was himself acting illegally.


State TV showed images of a march by several thousand anti-Zelaya protesters, many wearing the national colors of blue and white, who took to the streets in the main industrial city of San Pedro Sula. Later images on Venezuelan channel Telesur, which is sympathetic to Zelaya, showed apparent pro-Zelaya activists clashing with police in the same city.


“OAS: We want democracy, not Chavez,” one banner read at the rally against Zelaya, who was unpopular with many in Honduras, particularly the wealthy conservative elite, for his alliance with Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez.


The state broadcaster ignored a pro-Zelaya protest of roughly the same size in the capital, Tegucigalpa, which had wound down by early evening.


At a news conference in Panama City, Zelaya urged the demonstrators on. “I call on the people to keep up the banners. The street is ours. They’ve taken the institutions away from us, but the street belongs to the people,” he said.


FOREIGN PRESSURE


Many Hondurans struggle to understand why foreign leaders, from U.S. President Barack Obama to most of Latin America’s presidents, have backed Zelaya.


“They have only listened to (Zelaya) abroad, they haven’t listened to the population. But that doesn’t matter. We will continue alone,” said Adela Guevara, a hotel worker.


Zelaya’s popularity had dipped to around 30 percent in polls in recent months as he pushed for a referendum to change the country’s constitution.


Since his ouster Zelaya has said he plans to return home as president, but only to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in 2010. The interim government has said he will be arrested if he tries to come home.


“For the outside world, it is difficult to explain why he was taken in his pajamas at gun-point and sent into exile. But there really was no other option,” said Santiago Ruiz, who heads a local agriculture and ranchers’ association.


The European Union has condemned the coup and EU president Sweden said all the 27-nation bloc’s ambassadors had left Honduras.


The interim government told Reuters on Wednesday that there was “no chance at all” of Zelaya returning to office.


No foreign government has yet talked of sanctions against Honduras but Central American neighbors suspended border trade for two days this week. Any economic embargo could harm coffee supplies, which have so far been untouched by the turmoil.


The Honduran Congress approved a decree on Wednesday to crack down on opposition during a nightly curfew imposed after the coup. The decree allows security forces to hold suspects for more than 24 hours without charge and formalizes the prohibition of the right to free association at night.
 

Date created : 2009-07-03

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