Report: Honduran leader open to Zelaya return

/ Source: The Associated Press

Honduras' interim leader has backed off his opposition to restoring Manuel Zelaya to the presidency but wants concessions to mollify reticent business leaders, a former Honduran government official said Thursday.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti's refusal to consider Zelaya's reinstatement had been a key stumbling block in talks on solving the Central American nation's political crisis following the June 28 coup.

Micheletti told the chief mediator in the conflict, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, that the door was open to Zelaya's reinstatement, said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information from a private conversation. The ex-official said he spoke Wednesday with Micheletti.

Arias, meanwhile, said Micheletti has asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations.

Arias, who said he was considering the proposal, said the envoy would have to meet with several sectors, "especially businessmen ... who have been very reluctant to consider the possibility that Zelaya be reinstated."

The former official said Micheletti is seeking several changes to a compromise proposed by Arias last week that would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government. The changes are aimed providing stronger guarantees that Zelaya will not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that prompted his ouster.

Meanwhile, thousands of Zelaya supporters clashed Thursday with police, who fired tear gas at a market in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

One protester suffered a gunshot wound in the head and was seriously wounded, police spokesman Daniel Molina said. He said it was not clear who fired the live ammunition.

Red Cross spokesman Domingo Flores said protesters attacked an ambulance and beat three Red Cross workers, accusing them of being coup supporters.

Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, where he had settled his government-in-exile, to meet in the Nicaraguan capital with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, according to Kathleen Boyle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. She had no information on the content of the discussions.

It was unclear whether Zelaya planned to return to Ocotal, where hundreds of his supporters are camped out in shelters.