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Violence feared after Honduras crisis talks fail

HONDURAS' deposed President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government that ousted him abandoned failed negotiations yesterday and the mediator warned of bloodshed if they do not reach a deal soon.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is trying to mediate a peaceful settlement to the crisis, asked both sides for another three days to come up with a compromise deal to save Honduras from violence.

"Maybe, with this effort that we have to make over the next 72 hours, we can avoid bloodshed," he told reporters after the collapse of talks at his residence in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"What is the alternative to dialogue? ... What happens if, tomorrow, a Honduran shoots at a soldier and then a soldier shoots his gun at an armed citizen?," he said.

Zelaya, a leftist who was toppled in a June 28 military coup, said he would return to Honduras next weekend despite repeated warnings from his enemies that he would be arrested.

The US government has tried to dissuade Zelaya from returning from exile in neighboring Nicaragua before a deal is reached with his rivals because it could escalate the crisis, but he told Reuters that "no one can stop me".

A previous attempt by Zelaya to fly home on July 5 was thwarted by Honduran troops who prevented the plane from landing in Tegucigalpa. At least one person was killed in clashes between troops and Zelaya's supporters at the airport.

The standoff in Honduras is the worst political crisis to hit Central America since the Cold War and poses a diplomatic challenge for US President Barack Obama as he seeks to improve relations with Latin America.

Zelaya was hustled out of Honduras by the army after he upset the Honduran elite and Congress with attempts to extend presidential term limits.

He has won broad international support for his demand that he be reinstated, including from Obama's government and the U.N. General Assembly.

But the man who was installed as his interim replacement, former speaker of Congress Roberto Micheletti, has so far refused to back down.

Micheletti flatly rejected the central proposal put forth by Arias in two days of negotiations over the weekend -- Zelaya's return to power.

Arias said Zelaya should return to Honduras in the coming days to set up a coalition government including rival parties, but he was unable to win a breakthrough.

The Organization of American States squarely blamed Micheletti for the setback.

"We deeply regret that attitude of the de facto government's delegation in rejecting the proposal," OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza said. "We don't understand it."

Like Arias, Insulza raised the specter of political violence in Honduras if Micheletti did not reconsider.

The US government appeared to take a more cautious approach. "The people who have been negotiating have it in their power to (reach) a resolution, but ultimately this has to be a solution from Hondurans for Honduras," State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said.

The United States, which is Honduras' main trade partner, has cut off military aid to the de facto government and threatened to suspend economic aid as well.

Zelaya supporters plan to march on Honduras' Congress on Monday and union leaders called for a national strike on Thursday or Friday.

Micheletti has threatened to arrest Zelaya if he sets foot in the country and has put the army on high alert.

Both Zelaya and Micheletti left the door open to further talks in the future, although Zelaya said he thought a negotiated settlement was unlikely.

"You must never close the door on actions of good faith," Zelaya told Reuters in a telephone interview from exile in Nicaragua. "The mediator can continue to make efforts. I do not think that efforts with coup-mongers, just as with terrorists and kidnappers, will work."


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