Honduras breakthrough as rivals agree to talk

Honduras' de facto leader and ousted President Manuel Zelaya have agreed to restart a dialogue in a first break of a tense political impasse here since his surprise return home five days ago.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya talks to journalists in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. (AFP Photo)

The development came on the eve of an emergency session of the UN Security Council Friday requested by Brazil to discuss the nearly three-month-old crisis.

Zelaya, who was holed up in the Brazilian embassy, said a dialogue had begun with the de facto government to seek a peaceful end to the crisis set off by his June 28 ouster.

The de facto government issued a statement a short time later saying it would accept a visit by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Panama's Vice President Juan Carlos Varela as part of a mediation effort proposed by former US president Jimmy Carter.

The Honduran foreign ministry asked the Organization of American States to postpone a mediation mission that had been expected here Friday or Saturday until after the talks with Arias.

Arias, a Nobel peace laureate, had proposed a settlement in July under which Zelaya would be restored as president, elections for a new president would be held, and amnesty would be granted to those who took part in the coup.

Four candidates for the country's November presidential elections met Thursday with Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, in the heavily-guarded presidential palace and then visited Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy.

"We've obtained the commitment of Mr Micheletti to restart dialogue with this as a reference point (the Arias plan) or any other," said Elvin Santos, a presidential candidate from the Liberal Party.

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.

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."

He added that he would stay in the embassy "as long as it takes to end the coup d'etat."

A daytime curfew was lifted Thursday and the airports reopened, allowing businesses to resume and providing relief to a public that has grown impatient with the crisis. A nighttime curfew still held.

Thousands of Micheletti supporters marched past the Brazilian embassy Thursday, 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, where dozens of Zelaya supporters, journalists and several Brazilian embassy staff have camped out since Monday.

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 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 froze 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.

A police spokesman told AFP Wednesday that two people had been killed in pro-Zelaya protests since the start of the week, and rights groups have voiced concern about the situation.
 

Soirce: AFP

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