Honduran coup leaders soften stance before OAS visit

On the eve of a visit by the head of the OAS, leaders of a coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya said they would consider early elections as a way out of the political impasse here.

Soldiers arrest t a supporter of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya during a demonstration in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (AFP Photo)

OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza was expected to arrive late in the day for a quick visit to press international demands for Zelaya's reinstatement and explore ways to resolve the crisis.

Faced with an OAS threat to kick Honduras out of the organization, Honduras' interim leader Roberto Micheletti Thursday backed down from his insistence that general elections would take place on November 29 as scheduled.

The elections could be advanced, Micheletti told journalists. "As long as it's within the law, there's no problem, I'd have no objection if that was a way to solve this kind of problem."

Since Zelaya's ouster Sunday, the country has been rocked by growing demonstrations, a freezing of international aid and recalls of foreign ambassadors.

Protests have increased through the week, with daily lives disrupted by night-time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- and the country's 7.5 million inhabitants increasingly frustrated.

The army clashed with demonstrators in northern Honduras Thursday, for the first time in three days.

Insulza, meanwhile, said he faced a massive challenge, a day after defiant statements from the coup leaders who have threatened to arrest Zelaya if he returns to the country.

"I cannot say I am confident," he told reporters after a regional meeting in Guyana. "I will do everything I can but I think it will be very hard to turn things around in a couple of days."

Insulza planned to talk to select members of the Supreme Court and Congress -- the bodies, along with the army, which clashed with Zelaya over his plans to change the constitution before sending him away on Sunday.

Insulza dismissed any idea of negotiating with the instigators of the coup.

"We are not going to Honduras to negotiate, we are going to Honduras to ask them to change what they have been doing now, and find ways in which we can return to normalcy," said Insulza.

Demonstrations turned violent again on Thursday, this time in the country's main economic hub San Pedro Sula, after clashes between baton-wielding soldiers and protesters in the capital at the start of the week.

A Zelaya ally and deputy said the army had shot at protesters, injuring two.

A local police commissioner said some protesters had been detained and the army had intervened after demonstrators started attacking shops.

Thousands took part in a separate demonstration in favor of Micheletti.

Zelaya said in Panama that a string of personalities would join him when he returned to the country, including Nobel Prize winners and presidents. He did not mention a return date.

The international community, meanwhile, heaped further pressure on Honduras.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who has backed Zelaya, announced that Caracas was suspending shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

The Swedish EU presidency said all EU countries with embassies in Honduras had withdrawn their ambassadors.

Central American countries and Latin American leftists, including Venezuela -- Zelaya's main supporter -- Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua have announced similar measures, as has Colombia.

The Inter-American Development Bank on Wednesday halted aid, following a similar move by the World Bank. And key ally the United States indicated it may follow suit, saying it would wait until Monday before making a decision.

The Pentagon suspended all military activities with Tegucigalpa until further notice, a spokesman said.

Soldiers bundled Zelaya into a plane at dawn Sunday and sent him to Costa Rica after a dispute with the country's courts, politicians and army over his attempts to change the constitution to allow him the possibility of a run for a second term.

Source: AFP

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