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CAM: OAS head to press global concerns in Honduras

By Sophie Nicholson
Sat Jul 4 06:28:37 EST 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, July 3 AFP - The head of the Organisation of American States has arrived in Tegucigalpa for talks to try to resolve the political mayhem triggered in Honduras by the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya.

On the eve of the visit, the leaders who deposed Zelaya said they may consider holding early elections to end the impasse, but they remained defiant at demonstrations in the capital.

"I'm president of all Hondurans," shouted interim leader Roberto Micheletti -- who was sworn in by Congress hours after Zelaya was ousted -- to a crowd of thousands of supporters on Friday.

"It wasn't a coup!" "Out with Mel!" Micheletti shouted, referring to the nickname of the ousted president.

Thousands of Zelaya supporters demonstrated nearby in Tegucigalpa.

Soldiers bundled Zelaya into a plane at dawn on Sunday and sent him to Costa Rica after a dispute with the country's courts, politicians and army over his attempts to change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term.

The growing demonstrations, a freezing of international aid and recalls of foreign ambassadors have since shaken the country.

OAS secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza was expected for a short visit to press international demands for Zelaya's reinstatement and explore ways to resolve the crisis.

Faced with an OAS threat to kick Honduras out of the organisation due to reach a deadline on Saturday, Honduras' interim leader Roberto Micheletti backed down from his insistence that general elections would take place on November 29 as scheduled.

The elections could be advanced, Micheletti told journalists late on Thursday. "As long as it's within the law, there's no problem, I'd have no objection if that was a way to solve this kind of problem."

Before arriving in Honduras, Insulza said he faced a massive challenge, following defiant statements from the coup leaders who have threatened to arrest Zelaya if he returns to the country.

"I cannot say I am confident," he told reporters after a regional meeting in Guyana. "I will do everything I can but I think it will be very hard to turn things around in a couple of days."

Insulza planned to talk to select members of the Supreme Court and Congress -- the bodies, along with the army, which had clashed with Zelaya over his plans to change the constitution.

Insulza dismissed any idea of negotiating with the instigators of the coup.

The army clashed with demonstrators in northern Honduras on Thursday, in the first unrest in three days.

With their lives also disrupted by night-time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- as well as media blackouts and reported detentions, the 7.5 million inhabitants of one of Latin America's poorest countries have become increasingly frustrated.

Zelaya meanwhile said in Panama a string of personalities would join him when he returned to the country, including Nobel Prize winners and presidents. He did not mention a return date.

Friends and foes in the international community have joined together to heap pressure on Honduras, including aid freezes from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

The United States, a key ally, has indicated it may follow suit, saying it would wait until Monday, July 6, before making a decision.

The Honduran finance minister lamented in Chile Friday between $US300 million and $US450 million ($A380 million and $A570 million) of foreign aid was frozen.

"This irregular situation in my country puts social investment programs in a very precarious situation," Rebeca Santos said.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya's key backer, said Caracas was suspending shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up petrol prices.

All EU countries with embassies in Honduras have withdrawn their ambassadors and Central American countries and Latin American leftists have announced similar measures, as has Colombia.

The Pentagon has suspended all military activities with Tegucigalpa until further notice.