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Honduras suspends some civil rights

Honduras' interim leaders suspended key civil liberties in response to "calls for insurrection" by ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Image: Honduran soldiers march next to supporters of the ousted president of Honduras Manuel Zelaya during a protest in the surroundings of the embassy of Brazil
Honduran soldiers march next to supporters of the ousted president of Honduras Manuel Zelaya during a protest in the area around the embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 26.Jose Cabezas / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Honduras' interim leaders late Sunday suspended key civil liberties in response to "calls for insurrection" by ousted President Manuel Zelaya, empowering police and soldiers to break up "unauthorized" public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media.

The announcement came just hours after Zelaya called on supporters to stage mass marches Monday marking the three-month anniversary of the June 28 coup that ousted him. Zelaya described the marches as "the final offensive" against the interim government.

Zelaya, who surprised the world when he sneaked back into the country last Monday and holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, is demanding he be reinstated to office, and has said that the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti "has to fall."

The government said it had imposed the new orders because Zelaya had issued "calls for insurrection."

Arrests without warrant
The government's decree, announced in a national broadcast, empowers police and soldiers to arrest without a warrant "any person who poses a danger to his own life or those of others," although unlike martial law, it requires that anyone arrested be turned over to civilian prosecutors. The Honduran Constitution forbids arrest without warrants except where a criminal is caught in the act.

The measure also permits authorities to temporarily close news media outlets that "attack peace and public order."

The media restrictions appear aimed at pro-Zelaya radio and television stations that — while subject to brief raids immediately after the coup — had been allowed to operate freely, openly criticizing the government and broadcasting Zelaya's statements.

But under Sunday's order, authorities may now "prevent the transmission by any spoken, written or televised means, of statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law."

The decree states that the country's national telecommunications commission, known as Conatel, is authorized "through police and the armed forces ... to immediately suspend any radio station, cable or television network whose programming does not comply with these regulations."

OAS personnel expelled
Pro-Zelaya television station Channel 36 warned earlier Sunday that restrictions on the news media were coming, and said they were part of a pattern by the interim government of quashing constitutional rights.

The government had previously bragged about the democratic atmosphere in the country, citing outlets such as Channel 36 as proof. The station continued broadcasting without interruption on Sunday night.

The interim government also Sunday expelled personnel from the Organization of American States looking to set up a mediation effort and gave Brazil a 10-day ultimatum to either hand over Zelaya or give him political asylum and get him out of the country.

OAS Special Adviser John Biehl told reporters in the capital, Tegucigalpa, that he and four other members of an advance team — including two Americans, a Canadian and a Colombian — were stopped by authorities after landing at the international airport Sunday. Biehl, who is Chilean, said he was later told he could stay, but the others were put on planes leaving the country.

"A high-ranking official told us we were expelled, that we had not notified (the interim government) that we were coming," he said.

Biehl said he was in Honduras to set up a visit by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, who he said would arrive "at the appropriate time."

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has previously said the OAS was welcome to come, but suggested that representatives begin arriving Monday. Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said that the team's arrival didn't come "at the right time ... because we are in the middle of internal conversations."

Talks between Zelaya and Micheletti's representatives have produced no results.

A Micheletti spokesman warned Brazilian authorities Sunday to "immediately take measures to ensure that Mr. Zelaya stops using the protection offered by the diplomatic mission to instigate violence in Honduras."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva immediately rejected the missive, saying his government "doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters."

Micheletti didn't specify what he would do after 10 days. He has said previously that he plans to arrest Zelaya, who faces treason and abuse of authority charges for ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

Brazil — like the rest of the international community — recognizes Zelaya as Honduras' legitimate president, and says it wants to protect him.

Embassy surrounded
On Tuesday, the day after Zelaya's return, baton-wielding soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands of his supporters outside the Embassy.

Since then, the diplomatic mission has been surrounded by police and soldiers. Zelaya and about 65 supporters inside accused authorities of temporarily cutting off water and electricity early in the week, and later said the government released an unidentified gas that caused headaches, nosebleeds and nausea.

Zelaya accused Micheletti's government Sunday of bombarding the Embassy with "electromagnetic radiation." In a statement broadcast by Channel 36, Zelaya did not offer any other details, nor did he specify whether the alleged radiation had hurt anyone.

The U.N. Security Council has issued a statement that "called upon the de facto government of Honduras to cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy."

New talks to resolve the dispute began after Zelaya reappeared in Honduras last Monday following what he described as a secret, 15-hour journey. Many nations have announced they would send diplomatic representatives back to Honduras to support negotiations.

But the Honduran government said Sunday it would not automatically accept ambassadors back from some nations that withdrew their envoys.

Countries including Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela will have to negotiate re-establishing diplomatic relations with the foreign ministry and reaccredit their diplomatic representatives, the government said.