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Honduran talks restart, Zelaya vows return

HONDURAS' rival governments opened new talks yesterday to solve a crisis set off by a coup last month, but its de facto rulers sent mixed signals over allowing toppled President Manuel Zelaya's return to power.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the government that seized power in the June 28 coup to reach a deal that includes the reinstatement of Zelaya, a leftist who upset the Central American country's ruling elite.

But as negotiations re-opened in Costa Rica it was not clear whether there was any chance of a breakthrough.

In a sign of flexibility, the pro-coup delegation said it would let the Honduran Congress and judiciary consider a proposal to let Zelaya return.

"We will transmit this draft agreement to our authorities so that dialogue can continue," said Mauricio Villeda, the interim government's delegate at the negotiations.

Yet the government's foreign minister, Carlos Lopez, again swore the ousted leader, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, would not be allowed to return.

Zelaya was seized by the military and whisked out of Honduras after he was accused of violating the constitution by trying to extend presidential term limits.

The United States and Latin American countries support Zelaya's return and Clinton told the coup leaders to back down.

"The secretary made very clear ... that it's important for the de facto regime to take a serious look at the mediation effort by President Arias," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said in Washington.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, mediating the talks, proposed sending Zelaya back in a matter of days under a plan that would also bring presidential elections forward a month to October.

Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating Central American conflicts in the 1980s, said both sides in Honduras had to give something in the latest round of talks.

"Neither side in this conflict will prevail. The victory will be halfway for both sides, or it will be for neither," Arias said in the Costa Rican capital.

Zelaya, whose presidential term runs out in January, said from exile in Nicaragua that no matter what happened at the talks he would head to the border and try to enter Honduras.

"The idea is to cross over, to speak to the people," he said.


The crisis is a test for US President Barack Obama as he seeks to improve relations with Latin America, where a growing bloc of leftist leaders that includes Zelaya has challenged Washington's influence in recent years.

Obama's administration has condemned the coup, cut US$16.5 million in military aid and threatened to slash economic aid.

Several thousand supporters of the interim government marched peacefully in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

Dressed in white, they waved blue and white Honduran flags and banners that read "Zelaya is a traitor" and "Peace".

"We don't just reject Zelaya, we also reject the abuse of power he planned," said history teacher Dumia Tome, 39. "We are not going to allow him back."

Around 500 Zelaya supporters staged their own march on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa to demand his return.

In Washington, a congressional aide who has been in contact with negotiators for the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti, said he thought the pro-coup leaders were becoming more pragmatic.

"I think they are not shutting the door on a whole set of issues that they didn't (entertain) before," including the possibility of a coalition government, he said.

One idea is to create a coalition government that would include Zelaya, Micheletti and the head of the Supreme Court, the aide said.

Zelaya has called on Obama to impose tough new sanctions against those that toppled him.

Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America could be hard hit by sanctions.

The economy relies heavily on coffee and textile exports as well as family remittances from abroad and is projected to contract by about 2 percent this year.


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