Zelaya talks to leave Honduras for Mexico hit snag

TEGUCIGALPA Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:32am EST

A supporter of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya stands next to a flag that says ''In resistence'' outside the National Congress during a session to discuss the reinstatement of Zelaya, in Tegucigalpa December 2, 2009. REUTERS/Luis Galdamez

A supporter of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya stands next to a flag that says ''In resistence'' outside the National Congress during a session to discuss the reinstatement of Zelaya, in Tegucigalpa December 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Luis Galdamez

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TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Talks on Wednesday between ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government about leaving the country for Mexico after spending nearly three months holed up in the Brazilian Embassy hit a snag over the issue of asylum.

If Zelaya leaves Honduras it will end his hopes of returning to office and seal a victory for the coup leaders who overthrew him in June.

A politician close to Zelaya had said the toppled president would leave the country on Wednesday and a Mexican government source said he was going to arrive in Mexico.

But negotiations over Zelaya's exit bogged down because of disagreement over whether he would accept political asylum in Mexico.

"It's aborted under current circumstances," the pro-coup government's foreign minister Carlos Lopez told Honduran television.

Soldiers grabbed Zelaya from his home on June 28 and threw him out of the country in his pajamas, sparking Central America's worst political crisis since the Cold War.

He later sneaked back into Honduras to take refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and conduct a campaign, often through the media, for his return to power.

Zelaya suffered a serious blow last week when the Honduran Congress voted he could not take office again. That was also a setback to the United States, which had tried to broker a deal to resolve the crisis and reinstate Zelaya.

Zelaya had upset Honduras' ruling elite by forging an alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and hinting that the wanted to change the constitution to allow presidential re-election.

ASYLUM OR NOT?

The de facto administration wants Zelaya to take political asylum in another country, which would restrict his activities.

But Zelaya has rejected asylum in favor of a looser status that would allow him to campaign fully for his return.

He told Honduran radio he wanted to go to Mexico as a guest but "in no way is this a request for asylum or a request to give up the post I hold."

Hondurans chose a new president, Porfirio Lobo, in elections on November 29, but many countries have yet to recognize the vote even though it was scheduled long before the coup. Lobo is to take power in January.

Extra police beefed up security at the Brazilian Embassy on Wednesday night and a small group of Zelaya supporters carrying banners arrived at the building.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said November's election "marked an important milestone" toward restoring democracy but was not the final step under a deal between Zelaya and de facto leaders who took over after the coup.

Clinton lauded president-elect Lobo for working to achieve national reconciliation and calling for the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission as agreed.

(Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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