Zelaya plans return to Honduras if talks fail -wife
TEGUCIGALPA – Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will seek to openly return to his country if mediation talks on Saturday fail to reinstate him, his wife said on the eve of the discussions in Costa Rica.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is due to host the talks between delegations representing Zelaya, toppled in a June 28 coup, and the interim government led by Roberto Micheletti, who was installed by Honduras’ Congress after the ouster.
“Time runs out tomorrow,” Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, told Reuters in an interview Friday in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. “He has to come back to the country. He has to come publicly.”
She gave no clear indication of the timing of his return, but said he would not negotiate on his demand to be reinstated. Zelaya had given an ultimatum that either the Costa Rica talks restored him to office or he would consider them failed.
Micheletti has so far defied international calls for Zelaya to be reinstated and ruled out his return to office. He says Zelaya was removed because he violated the constitution by seeking to lift presidential term limits.
“A dialogue cannot just be an ultimatum,” said Micheletti’s interim foreign minister, Carlos Lopez.
The entrenched positions on both sides make more difficult Arias’ task to try to find a compromise settlement to defuse Central America’s worst political crisis since the Cold War.
Earlier, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist ally of Zelaya, had said the ousted president would go back to Honduras “in the coming hours,” suggesting an imminent return.
But Zelaya’s wife made clear that he was going to give the talks in Costa Rica an opportunity to reinstate him.
Zelaya is currently in Nicaragua, which borders Honduras.
Micheletti’s interim government has threatened to arrest him if he returns home.
A previous attempt by Zelaya to fly home on July 5 in a Venezuelan plane provided by Chavez was thwarted by Honduran troops who prevented the plane from landing in Tegucigalpa. At least one person was killed in clashes between troops and Zelaya supporters at the airport.
The United States, which is strongly backing Arias’ mediation efforts, urged states in the region to avoid actions that could push the situation into violence.
On Friday, supporters of the ousted president, clamouring for his reinstatement, blocked major highways in Honduras, including the northern access into Tegucigalpa.
At the southern entrance to the city, pro-Zelaya protesters lifted their roadblock after police brandishing tear gas canisters gave them an ultimatum.
“We’re going to bring “Mel” (Zelaya) back,” said teacher Noemi Farias as she took part in the protests.
“Zelaya said that in the coming hours he’ll enter Honduras. We’re behind him, we have to support him,” Chavez said outside the presidential palace in Bolivia, where he had attended a meeting of leftist Latin American allies. He gave no more details about how Zelaya intended to return home.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which has urged the rivals in the Honduran crisis to give the Costa Rica talks a chance, called for restraint. A State Department official said Chavez’s comments on Zelaya’s return were not helpful.
“The situation right now is of serious concern to us and there is a potential for severely aggravating tensions in the region should he decide to make that trip right now,” the official said in Washington on condition of anonymity.
As pro-Zelaya supporters blocked roads in Honduras, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which groups port workers around the world, called for a blockade of ships flying the Honduran flag to protest Zelaya’s ouster.
The federation urged affiliated dockworkers to refuse to load and unload Honduran cargo ships, potentially affecting exports including coffee and textiles from the country. Cargo ships from countries around the world fly the Honduran flag as a flag of convenience.
Honduran coffee producers say 2008-9 exports have not been affected by unrest after the coup. However, blockades by protesters could complicate delivery of fertilizers to farms preparing for the upcoming harvest, they said.
Zelaya, a logging magnate who was elected in 2005 and was due to leave office in 2010, has repeated almost daily since the coup that he intends to return home “any day.”
Chavez said Honduras’ army would not be able to control popular pressure for Zelaya’s reinstatement. “What do they want? A civil war? The people will sweep them away,” he said.
The Venezuelan leader has dismissed the mediation talks in Costa Rica as “dead before they started,” and accused the United States of being behind the coup that toppled his ally — a charge denied by Washington.
Micheletti has accused Chavez of meddling in Honduras.
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