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Pro-Zelaya protests grip Honduras ahead of talks
Thu Jul 16, 2009 8:54pm EDT
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By Simon Gardner and Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya shut down commercial highways on Thursday in protests in the capital and other places, demanding his reinstatement before weekend mediation talks.
The demonstrations by hundreds of Zelaya followers took place as Costa Rican President Oscar Arias prepared to host talks on Saturday with the rival sides in the political crisis triggered by the June 28 coup that toppled Zelaya.
Watched by armed soldiers and riot police, the protesters shut off the northern and southern entrances to the hill-ringed capital Tegucigalpa for several hours, backing up trucks and other vehicles for miles (kilometers) in both directions.
They later lifted the roadblocks, vowing to return in force on Friday to repeat the protests.
Police also reported protest roadblocks at Comayagua and at Copan on routes that carry exports and imports to and from neighboring El Salvador. But the interim government said commercial traffic was running over the frontiers of Honduras, an impoverished exporter of bananas, coffee and textiles.
Arias, mediating in Central America's worst crisis since the Cold War, is due to host talks between envoys representing Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, the interim president installed by Honduras' Congress after the coup. After an inconclusive initial round last week, the two sides are deadlocked.
Zelaya is demanding that Micheletti comply with international calls for his immediate reinstatement.
Micheletti says the army lawfully removed Zelaya because he violated the constitution by seeking to lift presidential term limits, and he has ruled out Zelaya's return to office.
Arias told local radio in Costa Rica on Thursday he would try to broker a compromise, such as a national reconciliation government between the two sides or an amnesty.
But Micheletti appeared determined in his refusal to allow Zelaya back into office. "We have a position. We're firm here," he said in Tegucigalpa, adding Zelaya would face charges if he returned home.
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED FOR FRIDAY
The coup and impasse in Honduras is a foreign policy test for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has sought to improve ties with Latin America. Obama quickly condemned Zelaya's ouster as illegal but faces calls from Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez, an ally of Zelaya, to increase pressure on Micheletti.
To counter renewed protests by Zelaya's backers, Micheletti's administration stepped up security across the country and reimposed a night curfew late on Wednesday.
At the northern access route into Tegucigalpa, hundreds of protesters, many in red T-shirts and scarves and some wearing the cowboy hats common in rural Honduras, blocked the highway with rocks, shouting slogans calling for Zelaya's return.
A similar protest shut off the southern access point. Continued...
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