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Honduras rejects appeal to restore president

Honduras' Supreme Court rebuffed a personal appeal from the Americas' top international diplomat Friday, refusing to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya before a Saturday deadline.
Honduras Coup
People rally outside the presidential residence in support of Roberto Micheletti's interim government, in Tegucigalpa on Friday.Dario Lopez-mills / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Honduras rebuffed a personal appeal from the Americas' top international diplomat Friday, refusing to restore President Manuel Zelaya and setting the stage for a dramatic showdown when the ousted leader returns to reclaim power this weekend.

Jose Miguel Insulza, who heads the Organization of American States, said after meeting with Honduras' Supreme Court, Attorney General and other political figures that he had found no willingness to return Zelaya to office ahead of a Saturday morning deadline. Zelaya was toppled in a military-backed coup on Sunday and flown out of the country.

"We wanted to ask that this situation be reversed," Insulza told a news conference in the Honduran capital, where he had arrived Friday on a personal mission to demand Zelaya's reinstatment. "Unfortunately, one must say that there appears to be no willingness to do this."

The OAS will meet on Saturday to decide whether to expel Honduras from the regional organization, he said, a move that could lead to further sanctions against one of the Americas' poorest countries. Suspension by the OAS could also encourage other organizations and countries to suspend aid and loans to Honduras.

Hours earlier, Honduras' Supreme Court, which had authorized Sunday's coup, said it wouldn't agree to reinstate the toppled leftist leader.

"Insulza asked Honduras to reinstate Zelaya, but the president of the court categorically answered that there is an arrest warrant for him," said court spokesman Danilo Izaguirre, referring to Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera. "Now the OAS has to decide what it will do."

Insulza said late Friday that Honduran officials had given him documents showing that charges are pending or have been brought against Zelaya, charges that purportedly justify the coup.

Insulza had conceded before traveling to Honduras that his mission was unlikely to succeed, saying: "It will be very hard to turn things around in a couple of days."

During the trip, the diplomat also met with the two main candidates in Honduras' Nov. 29 elections, as well with the leftist Popular Block, an umbrella group of farm, labor and student groups that largely supports Zelaya.

But he said he would not see Roberto Micheletti, whom Congress named president after Zelaya's ouster, in order to avoid legitimizing the government.

Micheletti's foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, said that Insulza "can negotiate all he wants, except for Zelaya's situation."

"That is not negotiable because he cannot return to Honduras, and if he does he will be arrested and tried," Ortez said.

'I am the president'
Zelaya, who was traveling in Central America, planned to return to Honduras on Sunday, according to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Zelaya has said he would be traveling with Insulza and the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador.

The military ousts leftist President Manuel Zelaya from office.

Contrary to assertions by the Micheletti government, Interpol on Friday released a statement saying it had not received any request to issue an arrest warrant for Zelaya.

Micheletti led a raucous chant of "Democracy!" before a giant crowd waving blue-and-white Honduran flags in front of the palace that Micheletti has occupied since Zelaya was seized by soldiers and flown into exile. He pledged to stand firm in the face of the international pressure.

"I am the president of all Hondurans," he proclaimed.

A rival rally by thousands of Zelaya backers marched to the offices of the OAS. Marchers carried a banner with a picture of Zelaya and the words: "Mel our friend, the people are with you!"

Despite feared violence, the two groups did not clash. Police helicopters circled overhead and dozens of soldiers and police guarded the palace.

Micheletti's supporters say the army was justified in ousting Zelaya — on orders of Congress and the Supreme Court — because he had called a referendum which they claim he intended to use to extend his rule. Zelaya denies that and has said he will no longer press for constitutional changes.

International reaction
Nations around the world have promised to shun Micheletti, who was sworn in after the coup, and the nation already is suffering economic reprisals.

Neighboring countries have imposed trade blockades, major lenders have cut aid, the Obama administration has halted joint military operations and all European Union ambassadors have abandoned the Honduran capital.

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras issued a statement expressing "deep concern over restrictions imposed on certain fundamental rights" by Micheletti's government, including a curfew in force since Sunday, and "reports of intimidation and censorship against certain individuals and media outlets."

Micheletti's government is so eager to find a friend that it announced it had been recognized by Israel and Italy — surprising the governments of those countries. Italy withdrew its ambassador to protest the coup, and Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: "All rumors about Israeli recognition of the new president are wholly unfounded."

Micheletti asked Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu to help mediate the conflict, and she arrived in Tegucigalpa on Friday.

"I come to try to talk with anyone who wants to listen to search for peace for this country," she said.

A Ousted Honduran Finance Minister Rebeca Santos on Friday told international finance ministers in Chile that the coup has already hurt the economy. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have suspended between $300 million and $450 million in financing.