Monday, 28 September 2009

Honduras Suspends Civil Rights and Bans Protests

By Andres R. Martinez and Blake Schmidt

Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Honduras banned protests for 45 days and suspended other civil rights as talks to end a three- monthlong political crisis stalled and supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya planned rallies for today.

Any media that “incited” violence will be shut down, Cesar Caceres, government spokesman, said in a telephone interview late yesterday in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The military and police will be allowed to arrest anyone posing a threat, he said.

Immigration authorities at Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa yesterday barred a four-member delegation from the Organization of American States from entering the country to organize talks aimed at ending the crisis. The acting government said it would first seek “internal” solutions to the stalemate.

Zelaya said he wants to hold talks with acting president Roberto Micheletti at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where the ousted leader has been staying since he entered Honduras last week, three months after he was exiled by soldiers at gunpoint. Micheletti’s government says Zelaya violated the constitution and won’t be allowed to return to power.

“They won’t let these people enter to start a dialogue,” Zelaya said in a phone interview from the embassy yesterday.

Micheletti and Zelaya met separately with the nation’s four leading presidential candidates last week, opening the way for talks. The two have yet to meet even though Zelaya has said he will recognize Nov. 29 elections, a condition set by Micheletti to begin talks.

Internal Solution
An “internal” solution to the stalemate will take precedence to OAS-hosted talks, said Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras yesterday. The four OAS officials “came here by surprise” and weren’t authorized to enter the country, he said.

Three of the four later left Honduras for Costa Rica, according to an OAS official who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter. A fourth remained in the country, he said.

Michael Stevens, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa declined to comment.

The OAS mission intended to help restart talks that stalled after Micheletti refused to restore Zelaya, one of 11 points in a proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is trying to mediate an end to the crisis. The government allowed one OAS official to stay because he had participated in the Costa Rica- mediated talks, Lopez Contreras said.

Honduras’s acting government also asked that Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina and Spain recognize it or they will have to close their missions in the Central American nation.

Brazil Ultimatum
Brazil doesn’t recognize a 10-day ultimatum from the acting government of Honduras to declare whether Zelaya has been granted asylum, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in Venezuela yesterday. Honduras will act to remove Brazil’s diplomatic status after 10 days, Contreras said, though it will refrain from attacking the embassy to forcefully remove Zelaya.

Lula said it would be a violation of international law if the de facto government enters the embassy by force and called on the acting government to restore Zelaya as president.

Speaking by phone from the embassy, Zelaya said he and about 50 supporters are rationing food brought in by human rights observers. He said authorities have used toxic gases, sonic sound blasts and electromagnetic radiation to try to drive him out of the embassy.

“We all have headaches from the radiation,” he said in a raspy voice. “It’s making us nauseous.”

Protest March
Zelaya called on supporters to march on the Brazilian embassy today after police and soldiers prevented thousands of his backers from reaching the building yesterday. The acting government announced a curfew 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Police are investigating the death yesterday of a Zelaya supporter who had been hospitalized for an asthma attack allegedly caused by tear gas at protests earlier this week, according to police spokesman Orlin Cerrato.

Supporters of Zelaya held a funeral for the woman, Wendy Avila, at labor union offices that have been the headquarters for protest organizers, according to protest leader Anarella Velez. Velez will file charges against police over the death, she said.

“The resistance hasn’t stopped for one minute,” Zelaya said. “We’ll keep up until we revert this coup.”