The general who oversaw the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya implored all sectors of Honduran society to join in resolving the country's deepening crisis Tuesday, a message that seemed aimed at calming an uproar over a government order suspending civil liberties.
Gen. Romeo Vasquez's comments on Channel 5 television came hours after interim President Roberto Micheletti said he would accept congressional calls for him to reverse the emergency decree suspending civil liberties that he had announced on Sunday.
Micheletti also said he would allow an Organization of American States team whose arrival was blocked this weekend. The OAS hopes to convince the coup leaders to bow to international demands they reinstate Zelaya, who was arrested and expelled from the country on June 28.
Micheletti's backpedalling reflected the largest public show of dissent within the ranks of his supporters to date. Conservatives expressed fear that Sunday's decree would endanger the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they consider Honduras' best hope for regaining international recognition.
Zelaya's surprise return home
The message by Vasquez seemed aimed at easing domestic and international protests that escalated after the government imposed the restrictions in response to Zelaya's surprise return home.
The decree suspended freedoms of speech and assembly and allowed warrantless arrests. Officials also closed dissident television and radio stations and expelled OAS employees.
"I am sure that Hondurans will find a peaceful solution soon to the crisis we are facing," Vasquez said, adding that "All sectors of society should put aside their differences to unite the homeland."
Zelaya, speaking via telephone to a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York said the decree was proof that the interim government "is a fascist dictatorship that has repressed the Honduran people."
The interim government said the measures were needed to counter calls for an uprising by Zelaya's supporters ahead of the three-month anniversary of the June 28 coup.
The reversals came in a roller-coaster 24 hours.
Micheletti first gave the Brazilian government a 10-day ultimatum to get rid of Zelaya — who has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa since sneaking back into the country Sept. 21 — warning Brazil it would have to take down its flag and remove the embassy crest. Then on Monday, Micheletti said he wanted to send "a big hug" to Brazil's president and pledged nothing would happen to the diplomatic mission.
Talks scheduled for October
Micheletti also announced late Monday that he would soon cancel the measures and that an OAS delegation would be welcome to help mediate talks scheduled for early October. Micheletti said his decision came after talking to congressional leaders, who were concerned about the decree's affect on the election, in which all the major candidates oppose Zelaya's policies.
The measures were declared as Zelaya called for a "final offensive" against the government, and Micheletti said pro-Zelaya media outlets were calling for violence.
All the drama belied the fact that throughout three long months, demonstrations by both sides have been largely peaceful. The government says three people have been killed since the coup, while protesters put the number at 10.
On most days, pro-Zelaya marches have been accompanied by mocking "Goriletti" gorilla dolls dancing on poles, while the Jesus Aguilar Paz School band beats out a samba-like "punto" rhythm from Honduras' Garifuna region, sending protesters into hip-swaying dances.
But in deeply divided Honduras, even the high school band is split: the more conservative horn section quit, while the drums renamed themselves "The Band of the Resistance" and have marched in about five dozen protests to demand Zelaya's reinstatement.