Isolated regime considers restoring civil liberties

Honduras's increasingly isolated interim leader Roberto Micheletti has said he would consider removing curbs on civil liberties and resume mediation efforts amid mounting international condemnation of the regime's clampdown on dissent.


AFP - Honduran de facto leaders followed a clampdown on dissent Monday with a promise to reconsider curbs on rights and resume mediation efforts, as deposed President Manuel Zelaya called for help from the UN.

The deep divides within the Central American country echoed beyond its borders as the Organization of American States failed after more than 10 hours of debate to reach consensus on the crisis sparked by the June 28 coup.

Amid widespread international criticism, Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti said he was prepared to rescind a decree restricting civil liberties so that upcoming presidential polls are not affected.

"We're worried that this decree could affect the elections," Micheletti told journalists in Tegucigalpa, hours after soldiers shut down two dissident media outlets under the new measures.

"If it's necessary, we'll revoke it," Micheletti said.

Protesters earlier taped their mouths shut to symbolize the loss of their right to express themselves as they were prevented from answering Zelaya's call to converge for a mass protest.

The ousted leader meanwhile appealed to the UN General Assembly to restore law in Honduras in an address he gave by telephone from his refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa -- where he emerged after a surprise return last week.

"Anybody who had any doubt that a dictatorship is taking hold of my country, now with what has happened in the last 93 days of repression, I think any of those doubts that might have existed are dispelled," Zelaya said over a cell phone held by his foreign minister Patricia Isabel Rodas Baca.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) was one of several groups to criticize the censorship imposed by the de facto government, and was particularly damning about a decree banning public statements deemed to offend officials or the government.

"Roberto Micheletti has effectively outlawed public criticism," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW's Americas director.

"This kind of decree has been the norm for authoritarian rulers, from Chile's Pinochet to Cuba's Castros."

While Latin American countries repeated calls to restore Zelaya to the presidency, a senior US representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) broke ranks and criticized Zelaya's return, branding it "irresponsible."

"The return of President Zelaya to Honduras, absent an agreement, is irresponsible and serves neither the interests of the Honduran people nor those seeking a peaceful reestablishment of a democratic order in Honduras," said Lewis Amselem.

As the pan-American body -- which suspended Honduras after the coup -- mulled over the crisis, the wavering de facto regime invited back members of an OAS mission it had expelled the previous day.

The foreign ministry said in a statement it was "pleased" to invite the preparatory mission to visit Honduras from Friday and apologized for sending back four officials, who were detained at the capital's airport on Sunday. It underlined that it had previously asked them to delay their trip.

It also invited a mission of regional foreign ministers and top OAS officials to the country on October 7.

Brazil meanwhile ruled out the possibility of dispatching troops to protect its embassy in Honduras, after the de facto leaders had threatened to close its embassy.

And former Honduras conflict mediator Costa Rican President Oscar Arias called again for both sides to sign his San Jose accord, which includes the restoration of Zelaya to the presidency.

The de facto leaders are seeking to arrest Zelaya on charges of treason and abuse of authority.

They allege Zelaya, who veered to the left after his election and forged an alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, ignored court orders to drop plans for a constitutional referendum that could have given him another term.

Two people have been killed in pro-Zelaya protests since the start of last week, according to police.

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