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Honduras resists demands to lift emergency decree
Thu Oct 1, 2009 10:16pm EDT
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By Patrick Markey and Esteban Israel
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - De facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti on Thursday resisted demands he lift a decree that suspended civil liberties as part of a crisis triggered by the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya.
Zelaya, who upset conservative elites with his ties to Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, was overthrown and exiled by the army in June in a coup that has spiraled into Central America's worst political turmoil in years.
Micheletti imposed the emergency measures over the weekend to curb pro-Zelaya protests around the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where the leftist has been holed up in refuge after sneaking back into the country 10 days ago.
Washington, the United Nations and even some of his local backers have called on the de facto leader to lift the decree, but Micheletti has resisted as the standoff drags closer to November elections that he says will resolve the crisis.
"We are just here to listen to the advice they give me, to see if we have committed any errors or not," Micheletti said after meeting with the Supreme Court to discuss the decree. But he gave no indication of when he would consider lifting it.
Soldiers ousted Zelaya on June 28 and sent him into exile after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. Critics say he illegally sought to amend the constitution to lift term limits. Zelaya denies wanting to stay in power.
Troops have ringed Brazil's embassy since Zelaya returned, but street protests have dwindled sharply after the decree was imposed and prohibited marches in support of the logging magnate, whose cowboy hat is a symbol of the opposition.
An Organization of American States mission of foreign ministers will arrive next week to try to broker talks. A group of Brazilian lawmakers entered the embassy on Thursday seeking to open dialogue with Zelaya before the OAS arrival.
OAS MISSION ON THE WAY
"He understands that with the arrival of the foreign minister mediators there is a possible opening for negotiations," Raul Jungmann, one Brazilian lawmaker, said after meeting with the deposed leader.
But both sides are clinging to key demands: Micheletti says the deposed leader must face treason charges and cannot return while Zelaya insists he must be restored to power in the coffee-growing country.
Micheletti appears determined to hold out until presidential elections on November 29. But several countries, including the United States, have suggested they might not recognize the vote without a prior agreement.
"We are and we can keep on surviving, to these elections and beyond the elections," Micheletti told Reuters this week.
Last weekend, Micheletti warned Brazil he could close its embassy if it did not decide whether to hand over Zelaya or give him asylum by a 10-day deadline, but he has since backed off from the threat.
"Micheletti is sending out mixed messages which makes me think they are still trying to stall," said Heather Berkman, Latin America analyst at Eurasia Group consultancy. Continued...
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