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U.S. limits visas in Honduras, stepping up pressure
Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:01pm EDT
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By Arshad Mohammed and Anthony Boadle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it would temporarily restrict the issuing of U.S. visas in Honduras, raising pressure on the government that took power after a June 28 coup to step down.
The State Department, which has repeatedly condemned the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, said that from Wednesday it would only provide visa services to potential immigrants and emergency cases at its embassy in Tegucigalpa.
The Obama administration has urged Honduran authorities to accept proposals put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, whose efforts to end the crisis have stalled over the de facto government's refusal to allow Zelaya to return to power.
The San Jose accord proposed last month by the Nobel Peace Prize winner would have allowed Zelaya to return to office until elections are held by the end of November.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the visa decision was intended to reinforce an Organization of American States' delegation that landed in Honduras on Monday to try to persuade the de facto government to accept the Arias' plan.
"In support of this mission and as a consequence of the de facto regime's reluctance to sign the San Jose accord, the U.S. Department of State is conducting a full review of our visa policy in Honduras," Kelly said in a written statement.
"As part of that review, we are suspending non-emergency, non-immigrant visa services in the consular section of our embassy in Honduras, effective August 26," Kelly added. "We firmly believe a negotiated solution is the appropriate way forward and the San Jose Accord is the best solution."
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters the visa decision was "a signal of how seriously we are watching the situation" and said Washington was considering other steps though it was premature to disclose these.
The OAS later conceded that the delegation visiting Honduras had not been successful.
"The Mission regrets that it was not possible on this occasion to obtain the backing of the San Jose Accord," the OAS said in a statement reiterating its call for Honduran authorities to accept the proposal before the country's presidential campaign opens next week.
The de facto government, which has resisted pressure from Western hemisphere governments and international bodies to reinstate Zelaya, vowed on Tuesday to stick to a plan to hold a presidential election in November, even if other countries don't recognize the result.
"There will be elections whether they are recognized or not," the country's caretaker leader Roberto Micheletti told foreign ministers from the region on a visit with Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza.
They included ministers from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Micheletti said his country could survive any economic sanctions imposed over his refusal to allow Zelaya's return. Continued...
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