New Honduran president to take charge after months of crisis

Honduras's newly-elected president, Porfirio Lobo, will be sworn in Wednesday in a ceremony that the United States and many Latin American countries hope will draw a line under a seven-month coup crisis.

Honduras' President-elect Porfirio Lobo (R) smiles with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras' Hugo Llorens before a private meeting inside Llorens' residency in Tegucigalpa January 26, 2010

But several other nations -- Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela among them -- are refusing to recognize Lobo's legitimacy, saying it would imply approval of the undemocratic ouster of former Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya.

Zelaya himself has vowed to return to Honduras after a period of reconciliation under Lobo's incoming conservative administration.

On Tuesday, he confirmed he was leaving the Brazilian embassy in Honduras, where he has been agitating for his return since September, to go into exile in the Dominican Republic. His original mandate ends on Wednesday.

"I have an invitation from the Dominican Republic's president, Leonel Fernandez, to leave for the Dominican Republic and I am going to accept that invitation and leave with him, ostensibly with the approval of Lobo's government," Zelaya told Globo radio.

Zelaya was kicked out of Honduras under military escort on June 28.

A Honduran judge Tuesday dismissed all charges against six military commanders who helped organize the coup and lawmakers were expected to approve an amnesty for all involved in the ouster on Wednesday.

Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti has been interim president since the June coup.

Micheletti fiercely defended Zelaya's ouster from widespread international criticism and organized the November 29 elections that brought Lobo to power after seeing Honduras lose 400 million dollars in regional trade.

It was not known whether Micheletti would personally hand over the reins to Lobo in Wednesday's ceremony. On Monday -- the day a new congress was also sworn in -- he was hospitalized with what military doctors said was high blood pressure.

Lobo, 62, cuts much the same figure as Zelaya did back when he became president: the scion of a wealthy farming family who is as comfortable in cowboy boots as he is in political debate.

But Lobo ran the opposite political path to Zelaya, starting off as a communist-inspired leftist before evolving into the staunch conservative he is today. A former friend of Zelaya's, Lobo supported the operation to topple his predecessor.

Lobo's first act will be to guarantee the safe passage of Zelaya out of the country on Wednesday in Fernandez's official jet.

After that, his challenge will be to steer Honduras back into the embrace of the international community.

That ambition got a boost from the US decision to recognize his presidency -- after initially rejecting the elections -- as well as from the presence of Fernandez, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos at his swearing-in ceremony.

Word from Central American neighbors Guatemala and Salvador that they would also recognize his government has added weight to his legitimacy, as did the Central American Bank for Economic Integration's decision to replenish Honduras' depleted coffers with 23 million dollars.

But in the coming days, he must also persuade visiting officials from the Organization of American States, and regional power Brazil, to drop their opposition.

Source: AFP

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