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Honduras talks grapple with issue of Zelaya return

OPPOSING sides in a post-coup crisis in Honduras remained poles apart after a second day of talks yesterday, and foreign diplomats expressed surprise at rough treatment they received from the country's de facto leader.

The standoff, triggered by a military coup in June that removed President Manuel Zelaya, is Central America's worst crisis in years. It has become a test for US President Barack Obama who promised a new era of engagement with Latin America.

De facto leader Roberto Micheletti has angrily brushed off demands he allow Zelaya to return to office. Zelaya refuses to consider other options.

"I am not optimistic about the results," Zelaya told television station Telesur. "The man who took power by force wants to keep it by force."

A delegation including the head of the Organization of American States and the top US diplomat for Latin America left Honduras after overseeing the first days of talks that began on Wednesday.

"The OAS mission is convinced the dialogue that has begun, with direct participation from both sides, can lead to a solution to the political crisis," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno read from an OAS statement.

But other members of the mission drew attention to the intransigence of Micheletti, who on Wednesday berated the visiting delegates for backing Zelaya, whom he accuses of corruption and says intended to extend his term in office.

The meeting was unexpectedly broadcast live on TV.

"We were taken aback a little bit by the attitude," Junior Canadian foreign minister Peter Kent told Reuters. "When we got to the presidential palace Roberto Micheletti was very firm and very forceful in rejecting any concept of amnesty."

The OAS and Zelaya say he must be reinstated in order to end sanctions against Honduras and legitimize presidential elections set for Nov. 29.

Kent said he told both parties they needed a solution by the end of the month to allow time to prepare for the vote.


US Republicans have criticized Obama for supporting Zelaya's return. The ousted leader angered Honduran business groups by befriending leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and communist Cuba.

Zelaya slipped back into Honduras two weeks ago and has taken refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy with his wife and scores of followers. Troops and police in riot gear have ringed the mission to limit pro-Zelaya demonstrations.

Slight progress was made with a promise to allow Zelaya's representatives in the talks to visit him.

The president's supporters have held small marches daily in Tegucigalpa despite legal curbs on protests imposed by Micheletti. He has also shut two media outlets.

About 200 Zelaya supporters protested yesterday outside the hotel where the talks are being held.

The OAS statement demanded Micheletti immediately fulfill a promise to lift the media and civil restrictions.

The foreign ministers and diplomats from Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain the United States and several Central American nations visited Zelaya on Wednesday in the embassy, where he sleeps on an inflatable mattress.


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