Deal reached that could see Zelaya return to power, date set for elections
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FRANCE 24 (with wires)
Honduras' de facto government has buckled under international pressure and agreed to allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to power if congress approves after he was toppled in a military coup four months ago.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will be reinstated if the country's house of congress approves the decision after an historic agreement signed by interim ruler Roberto Micheletti.
Zelaya's return paves the way for fresh presidential elections due to be held on November 29. Zelaya, under the present terms of the Honduran constitution, cannot stand as a candidate.
The United States, the European Union and Latin American leaders had all insisted that Zelaya be allowed to finish his presidential term, which ends in January. They had said they might not recognise the winner of the November election unless democracy was first restored.
Zelaya had angered many in Honduras by becoming an ally of socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Critics also alleged he was seeking backing to extend presidential term limits, a claim he denies.
Beginning of the end
"I am pleased to announce that a few minutes ago my negotiating team signed an agreement that marks the beginning of the end" of the four-month standoff, Micheletti said late Thursday in a statement from the presidential palace.
"We have always been firm that it should be the Supreme Court that decides the possible return of Mr. Zelaya, but we also understand that our people are calling to turn the page of our history during this difficult time," Micheletti said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ending a three-day trip to Pakistan, praised the deal as "historic".
FRANCE 24 correspondent Laurence Culliver said the eleventh-hour decision to allow Zalaya back had come at the end of extremely tough negotiations.
"Until just a few days ago, dialogue between the two camps seemed to be at a complete impasse," she said.
Dropping plans to change the constitution
The deal also calls for Zelaya to drop his plans to try to change the constitution, which had angered the country's elite and ultimately prompted the coup.
The political standoff has polarised and isolated Honduras. Since Zelaya's surprise return to the country in September - when he holed himself up in the Brazilian embassy - protests supporting his return to power have shaken the capital Tegucigalpa.
In his statement, Micheletti called upon the international community "to lift all sanctions against Honduras and send international observers to the presidential elections."
The United States, European Union and International Monetary Fund applied aid freezes to impoverished Honduras after the June 28 coup.
US envoy Thomas Shannon said that Honduras needed to regain foreign support to legitimise the forthcoming November polls.
"This type of support will ensure not only that it (the election) takes place peacefully, but also the reintegration in the international community and reopening the doors of international financial institutions," Shannon said.
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