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Honduras leader says met OAS chief, ready to talk
Fri Oct 2, 2009 10:14pm EDT
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By Patrick Markey and Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, said on Friday he had held talks in Honduras with Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza as a step toward negotiating an end to a post-coup crisis.
Micheletti said he was ready to sit down for talks over the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. But he did not say whether he would meet directly with Zelaya, who was exiled by troops in June but slipped back into the country last week and has since been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in the capital.
"We are going to sit down," Micheletti told reporters. "We are in conversations."
Micheletti revealed his meeting with Insulza at a Honduran air base as an OAS mission arrived in Tegucigalpa to negotiate a deal to break the standoff that has spiraled into Central America's worst crisis in years. He did not say when he met Insulza.
The two sides have maintained their key demands. Micheletti says Zelaya must face treason charges and is resisting pressure to return him to power. Zelaya, who had riled Honduran elites with his ties to Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, insists on returning to the presidency.
Honduras refused entry on Sunday to an OAS advance mission, but a team of diplomats flew back into Tegucigalpa on Friday to prepare ground for foreign ministers from the region who hope to broker a deal to break the deadlock.
"Naturally we have to be cautious in all this but we are reasonably optimistic," OAS mission chief Victor Rico told reporters at the airport.
The Honduran standoff is U.S. President Barack Obama's first key test in Latin America after he promised a new engagement with a region that often had testy ties with Washington when George W. Bush was in office.
Soldiers sent Zelaya into exile on June 28 after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. Critics say he illegally sought to amend the constitution to lift term limits, but Zelaya denies wanting to stay in power.
TROOPS OUTSIDE EMBASSY
Troops have cordoned off the Brazilian Embassy but protests have dwindled since the de facto government imposed a decree banning marches in support of Zelaya, a logging magnate whose cowboy hat has become a symbol of the opposition.
Micheletti, a veteran politician in Central America's No. 2 coffee grower, is under pressure to seek a deal and lift the decree that has curbed civil liberties and shut two media stations loyal to the deposed leader.
U.S. officials have pressed for Zelaya's restoration but criticized his surprise return. Washington has put pressure on Micheletti's supporters by cutting aid and revoking visas but shied away from tougher measures such as trade sanctions.
U.S. Senator Jim DeMint and several members of the U.S. House of Representatives met Micheletti after the Republican lawmaker criticized the Obama administration for "blind support" of Zelaya's reinstatement.
Micheletti has now backed off a threat to shut Brazil's embassy if it does not give Zelaya asylum or hand him over to face treason charges. But he insists elections on November 29 will resolve the crisis. Continued...
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