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Arias proposes Honduran leader's return

A new proposal by a mediator for ending Honduras' political crisis would return President Manuel Zelaya to power in two days and offer amnesty for the coup leaders that ousted him.
Honduras Coup
Supporters of Honduras' interim government march in Tegucigalpa, Wednesday, July 22. U.S. officials are considering sanctions on Honduras if mediation efforts by Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias fail to resolve the crisis. Arnulfo Franco / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A new proposal by a mediator for ending Honduras' political crisis would return President Manuel Zelaya to power in two days and offer amnesty for the coup leaders that ousted him.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias presented the 11-point plan Wednesday, saying it was the last proposal he would submit as the chief mediator in the conflict. He said Zelaya and the interim government that took power in the coup should turn to the Organization of American States for a new mediator if they refuse to sign the plan.

Arias warned both sides that time was running out for a peaceful solution to the crisis and urged them to set an example by becoming the first country in modern history to reverse a coup through a negotiated agreement.

"The clock is ticking fast, and it's ticking against the Honduran people," Arias said in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. "I warn you that that this plan is not perfect. Nothing in democracy is perfect."

Hopeful about a Thursday pact
Arias said he hoped the two sides would sign the pact Thursday, but acknowledged that he had not persuaded the interim government to allow Zelaya's return to the presidency.

Although it included some new ideas, the main points of the plan did not differ from an earlier proposal that interim President Roberto Micheletti rejected, prompting the United States and other countries to step the pressure with warnings of tough sanctions.

Mauricio Villeda, of the Micheletti delegation, said he would take Arias' proposals back to Honduras to present to the president, congress and the Supreme Court for consideration.

However, Micheletti's foreign minister, Carlos Lopez, repeated the government's position that the executive branch could not overturn a Supreme Court ruling forbidding Zelaya's return to the presidency.

"A proposal of that nature is inconceivable, unacceptable," Lopez told Radio America.

Zelaya had given mediators a midnight deadline to achieve his reinstatement, threatening to return to Honduras with or without an agreement and seek the prosecution of leaders of the coup that forced him into exile.

Such a scenario risks provoking violence: thousands of Honduras have protested almost daily since the June 28 coup both against and in favor of Zelaya. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Zelaya foes took to the streets in the biggest show of opposition yet to his return.

Rixi Moncada, of Zelaya's delegation, suggested there was little hope that Micheletti would agree to the new plan, saying nothing had changed since the interim government rejected the previous proposal Saturday.

She called on the U.N. Security Council and the OAS to "adopt the coercive measures necessary to force the interim government to submit" to the resolutions that both organizations have approved calling for the return of Zelaya.

Arias plan includes timetable
The Arias plan includes a timetable that would return Zelaya to Honduras by Friday to carry out the rest of his four-year term, which ends in January 2010. It calls for establishing a power-sharing government by July 27 and holding presidential elections on Oct. 28, a month earlier than scheduled.

The plan also would force Zelaya to drop efforts to change the Honduran constitution, an initiative that provoked his ouster.

Zelaya angered many people in Honduras by ignoring Congress' and the courts' rejection of his effort to hold a referendum on changing the constitution, which many saw as an attempt to abolish presidential term limits and impose a socialist government in the style of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.

The reconciliation plan would provide Zelaya immunity from prosecution for trying to hold the referendum, along with amnesty for coup leaders.

Arias said he included several new points, including some proposed by the interim government with the help of a U.S. senator, who has not been identified.

Among the new ideas was a truth commission to investigate the events leading up to the coup.

Tens of thousands of Micheletti's supporters rallied in the Honduran capital on Wednesday in one of the biggest demonstrations seen yet. Many chanted "Honduras!", waved the country's blue-and-white flag and wore white shirts printed with the slogan "I'm Defending My Constitution."

They accused Zelaya of being a pawn of his ally, the leftist Chavez.

"They wanted to impose communism on us, and we don't want to be communists," said retired gardener Florencio Mejia, 80, as he marched in a blue-and white baseball cap, clutching a Honduran flag.

Tensions remain high
Dentist Julia Garcia echoed Micheletti's comments that the country would tough out economic sanctions from other countries.

"We prefer six months of isolation, to losing our liberty," Garcia said.

Tensions remained high, as marchers and Zelaya supporters exchanged shouts and insults.

"These people have all been paid to march, and their bosses would fire them if they didn't come," said Zelaya supporter Alba Galindo.

Asked if the split between Hondurans could ever be healed, Galindo said "only if Zelaya returns."

No foreign government has recognized the Micheletti administration, and the United States has been turning up the pressure for his reinstatement.

Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood, speaking to reporters in Washington, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Micheletti's government in a phone call over the weekend.

Mediation remains focus
U.S. officials are considering sanctions and the European Union has already frozen $92 million in development aid and warned of further steps.

"The secretary of state made very clear that Mr. Micheletti, the de facto regime, needs to take this mediation effort seriously and respond appropriately," Wood said. "Should that not happen, there are clear consequences with regard to our assistance to Honduras. But I'm not going to go beyond that at this point. Our focus remains on the mediation effort."

Zelaya, meanwhile, said he is moving forward with plans to return, indicating he may not wait for a negotiated solution.

"I'm going to my country, my people, to reunite with my family, my wife and my children," Zelaya told Honduras' Radio Globo in an interview Wednesday from neighboring Nicaragua, where he has been staying at a Managua hotel.

Zelaya said he was gathering Hondurans and Honduran exiles in neighboring countries to participate in his return, and said that once he was reinstated as president, "a process of dialogue and reconciliation and forgiveness will begin, but there will be trial for those who carried out the coup."