Honduras' coup-installed leader has dampened hopes for a negotiated solution to the country's crisis, capping days of mixed signals by saying firmly that there's no way the ousted president can return to power.
That outcome is key to a proposal by the crisis' mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who has called for the restoration of President Manuel Zelaya, amnesty for the coup plotters and other measures.
Roberto Micheletti, installed by Congress after Zelaya was flown into exile, has sent mixed signals throughout the week on whether he might permit Zelaya's return as part of a deal. On Thursday, a confidante told The Associated Press that Micheletti was open to the compromise.
But Micheletti told reporters Thursday night that Zelaya could return to Honduras only to face trial for abuse of power and other charges.
"Under no circumstances will we let him take possession of the government," he said.
Possibility of reconciliation dashed
Arias said Micheletti had asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations. Arias said he was considering the proposal and indicated that Zelaya's return to power would be a key goal of such a visit.
He 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."
A former Honduran government official told AP that Micheletti also told Arias he was open to restoring Zelaya but was seeking concessions to mollify the reluctant businessmen.
The concessions would be aimed at guaranteeing that Zelaya would not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that led to his June 28 ouster, according to the ex-official, who is in regular contact with Micheletti and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was divulging details of a private conversation.
But late Thursday, Micheletti denied indicating to Arias he would back off his opposition to Zelaya's return to power, saying he was "a man of character who maintains his positions."
Organizing constitutional overhaul
Zelaya had been trying to organize a referendum to gauge popular support for the constitutional overhaul, defying court orders declaring the vote illegal. Opponents say he was trying to change the constitution to extend his presidential term, which ends Jan. 27, but Zelaya denies any such intentions.
Further complicating the situation, Congress put off until Monday consideration of a bill granting both sides amnesty from prosecution — an important part of Arias' plan to end the standoff. Congress had originally been scheduled to take up the matter this week.
The interim government has long said it hopes to resist international pressure until November elections, which it hopes will weaken calls to restore Zelaya.
The United States has suspended millions of dollars in military and development aid to Honduras. It stepped up the pressure this week, revoking the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials and warning it was reviewing the visas of all officials in the interim government.
Zelaya adviser Milton Jimenez said a proposal would be floated in the Organization of American States for other countries to extend visa cancellations to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.
Meeting with U.S. ambassador
On Thursday, Zelaya met with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras in Nicaragua, where the ousted president has set up his government in exile.
Zelaya told reporters after the three-hour meeting that he asked for Washington to apply pressure on the interim government "with more energy, more strength and greater decisiveness." He will also ask for "immediate action" from the U.N. and Organization of American States.
But his foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, told the Telesur television network that "it has been a meeting of repetitions, of positions that can't be negotiated. They (the U.S. diplomats) didn't come with a change, nor any new proposal."
Micheletti called the meeting an "interference," and said "Ambassador Llorens has committed a serious mistake by meeting with Zelaya."
Also marking a tougher stance, riot police in the Honduran capital used tear gas and night sticks to break up a pro-Zelaya blockade of a main artery leading into Tegucigalpa. Police said 25 people were injured and 88 arrested.
A Zelaya supporter was wounded in the head by a gunshot and was seriously hurt. Police spokesman Daniel Molina alleged the shot was fired by protesters.
"We will not allow any more disturbances," Micheletti said. "We are going to bring order to Honduras."