July 30, 2009 / 2:22 AM / in 9 years

Honduran rulers insist Zelaya cannot be president

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The de facto Honduran government insisted on Thursday it would not allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to office, dampening hopes of a deal to end a political crisis after a coup last month.

Rafael Pineda, who as minister of the presidency is No. 2 in the interim government headed by Roberto Micheletti, told Reuters the administration was “firm, unchangeable” against Zelaya’s return to power.

Micheletti, named by Congress as president after Zelaya was ousted in a coup on June 28, has asked for a special envoy to come to Honduras “to cooperate in the start of dialogue in our country.”

The coup leaders are under pressure from the United States to reinstate Zelaya and a source close to the de facto government said Micheletti might be willing to consider letting Zelaya come back if there were assurances the ousted president did not try to derail democracy.

Pineda rejected a return to office for Zelaya, who upset conservative critics by allying with socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“The position of the government in this issue is firm, unchangeable,” Pineda told Reuters. “The agreement, if there has to be one, can only happen if President Zelaya is not reinstated in the presidency of the republic.”

Pineda told Honduran television that the de facto government was committed to dialogue but also ready to hold out until a presidential election, which is set for November, if talks do not produce a deal.

He said Micheletti could quit as part of an accord that Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is trying to broker.

“President Micheletti has said that to avoid the shedding of Honduran blood ... he would be willing to stand down but only on condition that his standing down does not mean Zelaya’s return to the presidency,” he said.

Washington this week revoked diplomatic visas for four members of Micheletti’s administration to pressure it to reverse the coup, which has also been condemned by Latin American governments and the U.N. General Assembly.

HIGH-PROFILE ENVOY

Honduras' interim President Roberto Micheletti gestures during a news conference inside the Presidential residency in Tegucigalpa July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Micheletti on Wednesday asked Arias to send a high-profile envoy, possibly former Inter-American Development Bank head Enrique Iglesias, to Honduras to breathe life into talks on the crisis.

Honduran political analyst Juan Ramon Martinez said Micheletti might be trying to float a more flexible image to the outside world while entrenching his position inside Honduras, where there have been protest marches against Zelaya.

“I think what they are doing is ensuring that the dialogue drags on so the negotiation won’t die but it won’t move forward either,” said Martinez, a former presidential candidate with close connections to the Micheletti government.

Speaking on television, Pineda said the Honduran people were prepared to endure hardship for a while rather than accept a solution that leads to many years of governments “on the margins of the law.”

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“I believe the position of the government and the position of the majority of the people ... is that it does not matter what limits and poverty we must endure in these six months,” Pineda said.

The government has said it would abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court, which is due to rule in the coming days on Arias’ proposal that Zelaya be allowed back to serve out the rest of his term, which ends early next year.

“If he comes back it will be more of a symbolic return in order to get international aid flowing again... Perhaps we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but it’s a long tunnel,” said Heather Berkman an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington.

Zelaya upset the Supreme Court and many in Congress by trying to hold a referendum to change the constitution. Critics say he was trying to extend his mandate but he denies that.

The ousted president has left northern Nicaragua’s border area with Honduras where he had tried to stage protests against the coup, aides said.

He returned to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, and was meeting with officials at the U.S. Embassy, Nicaragua’s state TV channel reported.

His supporters have been blockading major Honduran roads sporadically since the coup in protests that have been largely free of violence as the police have kept their distance.

But on Thursday, soldiers and police in riot gear dispersed protesters in the capital with tear gas and shots, injuring several people. At least one person had a serious bullet wound, a doctor at the capital’s main hospital said.

A protest leader said two national pro-Zelaya organizers -- one a leftist presidential candidate for November’s election -- had been detained by police.

Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington, Marco Aquino, Gabriela Donoso, Mica Rosenberg in Honduras; Writing by Claudia Parsons

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