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Zelaya: Talks start with Honduras government

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he has met with an interim government official in an effort to try to find "peaceful solutions" to the country's protracted political crisis.
APTOPIX Honduras Coup
A man walks inside a looted supermarket in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday after clashes between supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and Honduran police.Rodrigo Abd / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Thursday he has met with an interim government official and begun dialogue aimed at ending the country's protracted political crisis.

Zelaya told Radio Globo that he met Wednesday night with an official of the temporary government that forced him out of Honduras at gunpoint on June 28, but he wouldn't name the official.

In an interview with the radio station Thursday, Zelaya said that the two sides made no progress, but he called the meeting "the beginning to find peaceful solutions."

Zelaya said that he plans to meet with business and social leaders this week.

Zelaya had been demanding to talk with interim President Roberto Micheletti since Monday when he sneaked back into the country and took shelter at the Brazilian Embassy.

Micheletti's government did not immediately comment Thursday.

Troops still surrounded the embassy, where an increasingly exhausted Zelaya, his family and about 70 supporters, remained sheltered. But life outside the gates of the two-story compound was almost back to normal Thursday: After days of paralyzing curfews, most children returned to school, airplanes began landing at the airport, borders were open and downtown streets were again crammed with taxis, buses and vendors hawking newspapers, snacks and bubble gum.

Some schools remained closed, but the busy streets were a dramatic shift after the past three days, during which Hondurans were forced to scramble through looted stores for food and police blasted water cannons and tear gas at violent demonstrations.

"It feels excellent," said Dagoberto Castillo, 27, a mechanic who opened his body-repair shop for the first time this week.

Call for amnesty
Zelaya was kicked out of Honduras after the Supreme Court endorsed charges of treason and abuse of authority against the leader for repeatedly ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on whether the constitution should be rewritten.

A report by the Library of Congress released Thursday by Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock found Zelaya's removal from office was legal but his expulsion from the country was illegal.

Schock, a Republican from Illinois, told a news conference Thursday in Washington that the interim government should allow Zelaya to leave the embassy, forgoing any further punishment and allowing him to live as a regular citizen. He also called on the Honduran government to issue a general amnesty for Zelaya and everyone else involved in the crisis.

Micheletti has pledged to arrest Zelaya if he leaves the shelter of the diplomatic mission.

Zelaya told Radio Globo in Honduras on Thursday that "calm will not return to the country as long as its president is locked up."

International leaders, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Barack Obama, have called for Zelaya's reinstatement ever since he was ousted, and his surprise arrival in Honduras has prompted new calls for Micheletti to step down.

Rene Zepeda, the interim government's information minister, said Honduras has no intention of breaking ties with Brazil so it can go after Zelaya inside the compound.

But he added: "Brazil should make Zelaya be quiet and provide the conditions so that he can dialogue with our government instead of unleashing violence in Honduras."

'Get out, Brazil!'
About 3,000 Micheletti supporters marched toward the Brazilian Embassy and stopped in front of soldiers guarding the compound Thursday. The group of smartly dressed lawyers, wealthy homemakers and others held signs saying "Get out, Brazil!" as they chanted "We want elections not intervention!"

A coffee shop handed out espresso to the participants, who ended their protest without incident.

Micheletti has said the conflict will be resolved when Hondurans elect their next leader Nov. 29, although the U.S. and other countries have said they may not recognize the vote if Zelaya is not reinstated.

Carter as mediator?
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose nonprofit center in Atlanta is dedicated to resolving conflicts, has been in touch with the Honduran government to express concern about the current situation, Carter Center spokeswoman Deanna Congileo told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Micheletti invited the Nobel Peace laureate to mediate new talks but Congileo said Carter is simply supporting efforts made by the Organization of American States and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias — another Nobel Peace laureate who moderated previous U.S.-backed talks.

Those negotiations broke down after Micheletti's government refused to accept a plan that would allow Zelaya to return to the presidency with limited powers and prohibit him from attempting to revise the constitution. Zelaya's term ends in January.

Micheletti announced in a statement Thursday that he told Carter he hopes Arias visits Honduras to hold talks with him and Zelaya.

Violent clashes
Zelaya supporters, meanwhile, marched through working-class neighborhoods to rally backers.

Police arrested about 20 people for blocking roads and other disturbances, police spokesman Victor Lopez said.

It's still unclear whether demonstrators were killed in the previous day's protests, which turned violent. Zelaya has told various news media outlets that 10 protesters were killed by police, he has given no details and authorities dispute this.

Local hospitals report several people have been treated for gunshot wounds.

Dr. Octavio Alvarenga, assistant director of Escuela Hospital in Tegucigalpa, said the hospital treated five people for gunshot wounds Wednesday night.