Sunday, 11 October 2009

Honduras imposes new media restrictions

Honduras's government has imposed a new law limiting media freedoms in the country, amid a political standoff between Roberto Micheletti, the de facto leader, and Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president.

Talks between the rival factions entered a three-day pause on Saturday, prolonging uncertainty over a possible resolution to the almost four-month old crisis.

The new legislation gives Micheletti's government the power to close down radio and television stations that incite "social anarchy" or "national hatred".

Oscar Matute, the interior minister, denied the measures amounted to controlling the media, saying the government was was applying rules allowed under international law.

"It doesn't represent any kind of control of the media," he was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.

"No journalist, no media outlet, can act as an apologist for hatred and violence in society."

Media crackdown

The government has not fulfilled an earlier promise to lift emergency measures that closed Radio Globo and Canal 36 last month, which had supported Zelaya.

The two stations were among the only media in Honduras that reported on the protests in favour of restoring Zelaya to power.

Michelletti's government accused the stations of encouraging vandalism and insurrection for announcing demonstrations.

Honduras has experienced near daily protests since the military-backed coup in June, which came after Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a referendum on changing the constitution despite a Supreme Court order ruling the vote illegal.

The interim government accuses Zelaya of trying to amend the constitution to annul one-term presidential limit.

Zelaya denies the allegation.

Negotiations suspended

Since sneaking back into Honduras late last month, Zelaya has been taking refuge, with dozens of supporters, in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

The international community has been pressuring the interim government to allow Zelaya's return to power ahead of the November 29 presidential election, which was scheduled before the coup.

Representatives from the rival factions said that recent face-to-face talks have yielded agreement on 60 per cent of the issues under an international plan to resolve the crisis.

But Juan Barahona, Zelaya's negotiator, said no agreement had been reached on the fundamental issue of whether the ousted leader could return to serve out the remaining months of his term.

They planned to discuss the issues within their own factions over the three-day pause and resume negotiations on Tuesday, two days before the October 15 deadline given by the Zelaya camp for his unconditional restitution.