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Latin America urges deposed Honduran leader to return

ESTORIL, Portugal (Reuters) - Latin America, Spain and Portugal on Tuesday called for the deposed president of Honduras to be reinstated as a “fundamental step” for a return to democracy in Honduras.

Leaders from the continent and the former colonial powers agreed at a summit on a statement condemning last June’s coup in Honduras. But they avoided passing judgement on an election held there on Sunday, which many countries have rejected as illegitimate.

“They consider that the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya to the position that he was democratically elected for, until his term ends, is a fundamental step for a return to constitutional normality in Honduras,” the statement said.

Honduras’ situation grabbed attention during the meeting of Ibero-American leaders in Portugal as many leaders feared that recognizing the election would be tantamount to accepting the coup staged in the Central American country.

In a region which not long ago had numerous military dictatorships, that hit a raw nerve with many leaders.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was himself imprisoned during military rule in Brazil, condemned the elections but said one possible solution could be that Zelaya be formally reinstated at least for the passing of powers to the new president.

“If something new happens, we can discuss it. For now, the (Brazilian) position is not to accept the electoral process in Honduras. A new thing (we could discuss) is for Zelaya to take over for the inauguration of the new president,” Lula said.

Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won Sunday’s election and urged Latin American leaders to recognise him.

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it recognised the results of Sunday’s election and it was a significant but not sufficient step in efforts to restore democracy in Honduras.

While Brazil, Latin America’s diplomatic powerhouse, and leftist countries like Cuba opposed the Honduran election, a number of other countries, such as U.S. ally Colombia supported the outcome during the two-day summit which ended on Tuesday.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country hosted the summit, said no country objected to the final declaration on Honduras.

Zelaya initially went into exile after the coup but returned to the country and has been camped out in the Brazilian embassy since September. The statement urged guarantees for Zelaya to be able to leave the embassy safely.

Additional reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan