WRAPUP 2-Honduras resists pressure to allow Zelaya return

Thu Jul 23, 2009 2:20pm EDT

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(For full coverage of Honduras, click on [nN28343997])

* Honduras' de facto leaders show no sign of backing down

* Zelaya to start journey home to Honduras

* Arias says Honduras is "completely isolated" (Updates with police comment, protest details)

By Simon Gardner and Esteban Israel

TEGUCIGALPA, July 23 (Reuters) - Honduras will not yield to international pressure for the return to power of President Manuel Zelaya, officials said on Thursday as Zelaya prepared a new bid to go home from exile.

The government that took over after the June 28 coup has agreed to consult with Congress and the Supreme Court on a new proposal that was put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and includes the leftist Zelaya's reinstatement.

But it threw cold water on hopes for a breakthrough.

"I don't think the Supreme Court or the state prosecutor's office or Congress are going to change their criteria. I think they will maintain their position against Manuel Zelaya's return to power," said Mauricio Villeda, a de facto government negotiator at talks mediated by Arias.

Zelaya said Arias' efforts had failed and that he was going ahead with a plan to cross the border into Honduras from neighboring Nicaragua, defying the threat of arrest.

The United States, Europe and Latin American governments have all tried to pressure Honduras' interim government into backing down, but have so far failed.

Valentin Suarez, the head of Honduras' ruling Liberal Party in Congress, said most lawmakers would vote against Arias' proposal.

"The executive branch, the judiciary and Congress can't all be wrong," Suarez said. "It is a crazy recommendation for Hondurans."

It was the Supreme Court that first ordered Zelaya's ouster and Congress endorsed it, accusing him of violating the constitution by trying to extend presidential terms.

U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned the coup, cut $16.5 million in military aid and threatened to slash economic aid. Zelaya said that is not enough and urged him to impose tougher sanctions against the individuals who led the coup against him and joined the de facto government.

But some Republicans in Congress say Obama has already done too much for Zelaya, a leftist allied with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of the United States.

ZELAYA'S RETURN BID

Zelaya plans to travel overland on Thursday from the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, to the town of Esteli, en route to small towns near the Honduran border.

He declined to say when and where he would ultimately cross over into Honduras, citing security concerns. Asked if he would resist arrest, he said he could not predict what would happen.

"That will unfold once I am there ... There are no charges, no verdict against me," said Zelaya, who was seized by the army in the middle of the night and whisked out of Honduras in his pajamas.

He tried to return by plane earlier this month but troops blocked the runway and a pro-Zelaya protester was killed in clashes with security forces.

The Honduran interim government insisted it would arrest Zelaya if he tried to return to the country.

"There is an arrest order and if Mr Zelaya enters we will proceed according to the law and arrest him," said Daniel Molina, spokesman for the security ministry.

Arias has proposed sending Zelaya back within days under a plan that also includes forming a coalition government and bringing presidential elections forward a month to October. He said it is time for the de facto government to compromise.

"It is completely isolated. They have become the North Korea or the Albania of Central America," Arias said late on Wednesday.

Carlos Lopez, the interim government's foreign minister and lead negotiator, told reporters in Tegucigalpa there was no way Zelaya could return.

"It is not negotiable," he said Wednesday night. "It is not the talks that failed, but the proposal."

Before his ouster, Zelaya alarmed Honduras' business elite by moving the country closer to Venezuela's self-styled socialist leader Chavez.

Zelaya's supporters called for a two-day national strike on Thursday and Friday to demand his return, and say they will also set up roadblocks across the country.

Around 1,000 people blocked a road on the northern outskirts of Tegucigalpa on Thursday, burning tires and causing a tailback of trucks.

"The people are united and will never be beaten," they chanted, waving red flags, some wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with Zelaya's image. (With reporting by Gustavo Palencia, Marco Aquino and Sean Mattson in Tegucigalpa and Juana Casas in San Jose; Editing by Kieran Murray and Doina Chiacu)

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