Honduras breakthrough as rivals agree to talk

The de facto leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has agreed to reopen dialogue with deposed President Manuel Zelaya, candidates for the country's November presidential elections said Thursday.

Journalists stand by Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya, center wearing hat, as he meets with presidential candidates in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009.

Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian embassy, said shortly beforehand that a breakthrough dialogue had begun with the de facto government to seek a peaceful end to the country's political crisis sparked by his June 28 ouster.

The announcements came after the UN Security Council agreed to a request from Brazil for emergency talks on the three-month crisis in the Central American nation on Friday.

The presidential candidates met first with Micheletti in the heavily-guarded presidential palace and then visited Zelaya at the embassy.

"We've obtained the commitment of Mr Micheletti to restart dialogue with this reference point (a first peace plan proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias) or any other," said Elvin Santos, a presidential candidate from the Liberal Party, speaking for the four candidates.

Arias, a Nobel peace laureate who brokered the first failed peace talks between the two sides, said Monday he "would be willing to go" to Honduras to follow up his mediation effort.

 He still urged both sides to sign July's San Jose accord, which called for Zelaya's return to the presidency.

Zelaya secretly entered the country on Monday, throwing the country into chaos, provoking mass street demonstrations and a military clampdown, temporary airport closures and curfews.

"At this time I can say that the dialogue has begun with the forces of the nation," Zelaya said on Radio Globo after meeting with the auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Juan Jose Pineda.

Zelaya said he had met Wednesday night with "a representative of the de facto government" whom he would not identify.

"We have not advanced at all from the inflexible position that they (the interim government of Roberto Micheletti) have," Zelaya said, but he described the meeting as "positive."

Earlier on Thursday in a brief interview with CNN, when asked whether he was returning to the country to reclaim the presidency, Zelaya said "I never lost that title" and added that he would stay in the embassy "as long as it takes to end the coup d'etat.

The country breathed a sigh of relief as business resumed Thursday with the lifting of a daytime curfew and reopening of airports. A nighttime curfew still held.

Thousands of Micheletti supporters marched past the Brazilian embassy dressed in white and carrying banners reading "Out with Mel" (Zelaya's nickname).

"I'm here to defend Honduras from the communism of (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez," said housewife Marisela.

The firebrand Venezuelan leader influenced Zelaya in his swing to the left after the Honduran's election in 2005.

Several thousand Zelaya supporters moved their demonstrations to another area of the capital Tegucigalpa Thursday to make way for their rivals to protest outside the embassy.

They said they would return to the embassy on Friday.

Fear and hunger intensified inside the embassy, still a temporary home to the ousted leader, dozens of his supporters and several Brazilian embassy staff.

The de facto leaders have insisted the compound will not be taken by force and denied they were responsible for power and water cuts.

The Organization of American States (OAS) was meanwhile due to send a new mediation mission to Honduras at the weekend, including ambassadors withdrawn after the June 28 coup.

The International Monetary Fund said Thursday it would still recognize Zelaya as head of state of Honduras, after consulting with its membership.

The IMF's sister institution, the World Bank, suspended aid to Honduras, as did the United States and the European Union, after the coup.

The United Nations on Wednesday suspended its technical support for the November presidential poll.

Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are standing for election but the interim government hopes to stay in office until the vote, to keep Zelaya out.

 Amid growing concern of repression by the de facto regime from rights groups, a police spokesman told AFP Wednesday that two people had been killed in pro-Zelaya protests since the start of the week.

Source: AFP

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