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Prosecutors charge military leaders with 'abuse of power'

Honduran prosecutors have charged the country's military high-command with "abuse of power" for the ousting of ex-president Manuel Zelaya in a bloodless coup last June, according to a Supreme Court spokeswoman quoted by the AFP news agency.


AFP - Honduras' attorney general charged the country's top military chiefs Wednesday with "abuse of power" for a coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a Supreme Court spokesman told AFP.

"They are various commanders, and the crimes are abuse of power," said Danilo Izaguirre, adding that the court had three days to respond to the charges filed by Attorney General Luis Rubi.

Armed forces chief of staff General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, Air Force chief Venancio Cervantes and Navy chief Luis Javier Prince were among those accused over the arrest and expulsion of Zelaya to Costa Rica on June 28.

An army spokesman told local radio America that Vasquez had called on military lawyers to take on the case.

Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since returning to Honduras in September, immediately dismissed the charges as superficial and accused the de facto regime of using new tricks.

"Today, using a new stratagem, the attorney general who has equal or more responsibility as the soldiers, is presenting accusations... to achieve impunity for the soldiers by accusing them of minor crimes," Zelaya said in a statement.

The Supreme Court, as well as the Congress and business leaders, backed left-leaning Zelaya's expulsion during a dispute over his plans to change the constitution, which critics saw as a bid to prolong his mandate.

Rights groups had called on the country's legal institutions to denounce the military for their involvement in the coup and heavy-handed clampdowns on protests by Zelaya supporters in its aftermath.

Wednesday's announcement came as a top US envoy left Honduras without comment after a two-day visit seeking an exit to the deep political crisis set off by the coup.

De facto foreign minister Carlos Lopez told a news conference that the latest visit by Craig Kelly, the second highest US diplomat to Latin America, had been "very constructive," and that he had met with de facto leader Roberto Micheletti for almost three hours.

"The issue of a possible resignation was not tackled," Lopez said.

Micheletti earlier said the United States had offered "millions of dollars in aid" to Honduras if he would step down, in a television interview cited by print media here.

The United States, along with the European Union and international organizations, froze millions of dollars of much-needed aid to Honduras after the coup.

Kelly also met briefly with Porfirio Lobo, who won controversial November presidential elections held under the coup regime, after speaking to Zelaya inside the Brazilian embassy on Tuesday.

Micheletti said Wednesday he would still step down on January 27, when conservative Lobo is due to take office.

Many critics, particularly in Latin America, slammed November's polls as an endorsement to the coup in a region with a painful history of dictatorships.

They sought for Zelaya to return to office to finish his term as a possible solution to the crisis.

But the future of Zelaya, who is threatened with arrest, remained uncertain.

The Honduran Congress was meanwhile preparing to debate an amnesty for those involved in the coup, which could be approved next week.

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