21 seconds ago 2009-10-01T17:21:04-07:00
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – De facto Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti on Wednesday backed away from a deadline set for Brazil to decide on the fate of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya, who has been holed up at the Brazilian embassy for more than a week after sneaking back from exile.
Zelaya, who antagonized conservative elites and business leaders with his ties to Venezuela's socialist government, was overthrown by the army in June, triggering Central America's worst political crisis in years.
The de facto government gave Brazil a 10-day deadline last week to decide whether to hand over Zelaya to face treason charges or grant him asylum. Troops have ringed the mission for the past week and the government threatened to close the embassy if Brazil did not comply.
Micheletti has come under increasing pressure from the international community and even local supporters to resolve the crisis and lift an emergency decree that suspended civil liberties and shut two media outlets loyal to Zelaya.
Micheletti's foreign minister had said Brazil would lose its diplomatic mission if there was no resolution. But Micheletti backed away from the ultimatum, telling Reuters in an interview he had not been consulted before the announcement.
"We are not are going to do anything that breaks with the international accords we have," Micheletti said. "They can stay there as long as they want. All we need is for Brazil to guarantee its mission is not used for political campaigning."
Riot police surrounded a government building in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday and cleared out 57 Zelaya supporters who had taken over the office and holed up there since the overthrow of Zelaya, a logging magnate who favors cowboy hats.
Seeking to end the standoff, the Organization of American States plans to send a delegation of foreign ministers to Honduras next week to try to broker negotiations between Zelaya and Micheletti.
Micheletti said on Wednesday he is considering calls to roll back the decree, but Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur TV, the two pro-Zelaya media outlets suspended by the government, remained shut.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has joined an international chorus calling for Micheletti to lift the restrictions and stop threatening Brazil's embassy. Local lawmakers have also pressured Micheletti to end the decree.
Regional powerhouse Brazil has rejected Micheletti's deadline and called for more pressure. The United States has demanded Honduras roll back the measures.
OAS SEES DIALOGUE
The two sides are deadlocked over how to resolve the crisis in Central America's No. 2 coffee producer. Zelaya insists he must be reinstated, but Micheletti says the deposed leader must face treason charges and insists that a new leader will be picked in a November election.
But Micheletti said an envoy was keeping a channel of communication open with the Zelaya camp.
An OAS representative in Tegucigalpa preparing for the delegation from the region's top diplomatic body on Wednesday said there were positive signals before the visit.
"I have found a willingness on both parts to sit down and talk ... and for a real dialogue," John Biehl, adviser to OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, told reporters.
Soldiers ousted Zelaya at gunpoint on June 28 and sent him into exile after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. His critics say he broke the law by pushing for constitutional reforms they say would have lifted term limits. Zelaya denies wanting to stay in power.
Micheletti appears to 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 said.
OAS consensus on how to handle the Honduran crisis faltered this week when the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Bahamas and Peru proposed dropping Zelaya's return to power as a precondition for legitimate elections.
Key Honduran business leaders, who backed the coup, have proposed Zelaya be allowed to return but without executive power. They suggested he could be placed under house arrest until the end of his term in January when he would face corruption charges.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who sought to broker a deal shortly after the coup, has urged Honduran presidential candidates to step in to negotiate an agreement and ensure the next president gets international recognition.
(Writing by Patrick Markey in Tegucigalpa; Editing by Eric Walsh)