Monday, 5 October 2009


By Oscar Nunez Olivas and Isabel Sanchez (AFP)

TEGUCIGALPA — Deposed President Manuel Zelaya called on the Honduran regime to restore civil liberties and withdraw soldiers surrounding his Brazilian embassy refuge as a precondition for talks aimed at solving the political crisis.

Representatives of Zelaya and the military-supported interim Honduran regime agreed to restart talks this week, without setting a date, that would restore democracy after soldiers ousted the president at gunpoint on June 28 and kicked him out of the country in his pyjamas.

Zelaya's surprise return on September 21 to the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa triggered a new wave of protests and a clampdown on civil rights, but also boosted efforts to break the deadlock.

The interim government led by Roberto Micheletti, which has surrounded the embassy with soldiers and riot police, wants to arrest Zelaya on charges that include treason and corruption.

Ninety percent of the issues holding up negotiations "have been resolved," Zelaya told AFP in a telephone interview from inside the Brazilian embassy.

But if the remaining 10 percent "is an obstacle, then one has to trust the ... international community to continue pressuring" the regime.

Zelaya said that in order to begin a "sincere" dialogue with the interim government civil liberties must be restored; two pro-Zelaya broadcast stations the regime took over must re-open; soldiers must withdraw from around the Brazilian embassy; and he must be allowed to chose his representatives for the negotiations.

Currently Zelaya and 60 aides and reporters are surrounded at the embassy "where they have us imprisoned like in a concentration camp" -- and members of his cabinet have been not been allowed entry, he said.

Separately, in a telephone call Zelaya urged some 300 supporters at an event to "peacefully demonstrate" against the regime on Monday.

The leader of the pro-Zelaya Resistance Front, Juan Barahona, vowed to defy decrees banning demonstrations. "We are not going to stay at our homes ... they want to lock us up and have failed to do that," he said.

On Monday the protest is set for 8 am "with or without cops, with or without repressive decrees -- tomorrow everyone towards the United States embassy!" he said.

On Wednesday, 10 foreign ministers from Organization of American States (OAS) members, as well as Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, will visit Honduras in an attempt to ease dialogue and pave the way for a restoration of democracy.

South American countries -- especially Brazil, Argentina and Chile, which suffered through military regimes in the 1970s and 1980s -- are especially keen to resolve the Honduran crisis.

Zelaya said that Micheletti should accept a mediation plan proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which calls for the ousted leader's return to power and the formation of a national unity government.

"I am ready to sitting down face-to-face with the dictator when he decides to sign the Arias plan," Zelaya told AFP.

Micheletti, who earlier rejected the Arias plan, said he would meet with his cabinet on Monday to consider restoring civil liberties.

Micheletti's support among the business elite has suffered as curfews, temporary airport closures, and the suspension of civil liberties have resulted in millions of dollars in losses.

The regime had been trying to prevent Zelaya to return before the November 29 elections, a vote most countries said they will refuse to recognize.

Election campaigning had begun, but has been undercut by rules banning large gatherings -- which led Honduran political leaders to press Micheletti to negotiate an end to the crisis.