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