Honduran authorities on Sunday lifted a curfew imposed since the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya two weeks ago — a sign the interim government is trying to restore normality to life in the crisis-gripped country.
In a nationally broadcast announcement, the interim government said the curfew had reached its objective to "restore calm" and curb crime.
The administration of Roberto Micheletti imposed the curfew after soldiers escorted Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint on June 28, plunging Honduras into political turmoil.
Hondurans were ordered to stay in their homes from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. nightly. The government briefly extended it from sunset to sunrise when Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras and the military blocked his plane from landing by parking vehicles on the runway July 5.
Many business closed
Daily demonstrations for and against the forcibly exiled leader have disrupted transit and prompted many businesses to close. Many governments have withdrawn their ambassadors to protest the coup.
The interim government said Hondurans nationwide can go out at night starting Sunday.
Juan Barahona, leader of the Zelaya support base, said officials were under pressure from bars and other businesses hurt by the curfew.
"This is to give the world the impression that there is an environment of freedom in the country," he said.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who has been the most vociferous defender of Zelaya, said Sunday that Micheletti was behind the brief detention of journalists for his country's leading state television channel.
Venezuela's ABN state news agency reported that the seven were detained Saturday and later released after Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro made efforts to secure their freedom.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI called on Hondurans to pursue dialogue and reconciliation after following the situation with "great concern."
Both claimants to Honduras' presidency met separately Thursday with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is leading mediation efforts, but they refused to talk face to face.
Representatives of Zelaya and Micheletti met again with Arias on Friday and agreed to hold future talks, but no date was set.
About 300 Zelaya supporters held a peaceful demonstration in a park in Tegucigalpa on Sunday.
"Mr. Micheletti lifted the curfew, but be careful because we are living in a tense climate and without true democracy," said Esly Lizardo, 65, a protester.
Zelaya's supporters fear the interim government will drag out negotiations so it can remain in power through November's presidential elections.
But former Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez, a delegate of Micheletti who participated in the talks, said his side has not ruled out the possibility of early elections as a way out of the conflict.
U.S. officials hope the talks will ease Zelaya back into the presidency while resolving the concerns of Honduras' Supreme Court, Congress and military, which say they legally removed the president for violating the constitution. They accuse him of trying to extend his time in office, though he denies that.
Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending Central America's civil wars.