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SNAP ANALYSIS: Zelaya's return raises stakes in Honduras crisis

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned from exile to the Honduran capital and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on Monday, to avoid arrest by the country’s de facto leaders.

Here is what Zelaya’s reappearance in Honduras could mean for a political crisis in the Central American country three months after he was overthrown in a coup:

* Thousands of Zelaya’s supporters gathered in front of the Brazilian embassy hoping to get a glimpse of the toppled leader, raising the specter of violence if the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti decides to send in security forces to disperse the crowd or surround the embassy. At least two pro-Zelaya protesters were killed in clashes with soldiers and police shortly after the coup and other protests have been broken up by tear gas.

* Zelaya’s unexpected return came as conservative Micheletti was entrenching himself in power ahead of scheduled elections in November. He will now come under increasing pressure to step down or renew talks with his rival Zelaya. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias failed to negotiate a solution between the two sides in July because Micheletti refused to accept Zelaya’s return.

* Many Latin American governments will now be looking to the United States to make good on promises of support for Zelaya by pressuring the pro-coup administration in Honduras to cede power.

“This could be the moment of truth for the Obama administration,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. “If Zelaya is back, they will have to choose sides. It is pretty clear that the rest of the world will stand with Zelaya.”

Some Republicans in the U.S. Congress have urged President Barack Obama to reconsider his stance against the Micheletti government, which has close ties to powerful business interests in Honduras including in the coffee and textile exporting sectors.

* Brazil, the Latin American economic powerhouse which is seeking more political and diplomatic weight, has been thrown into the center stage of the Honduras conflict with Zelaya’s decision to take refuge in its embassy in Tegucigalpa. Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, told reporters in New York that “Any threat to the Brazilian embassy would be a grave breach of international law.” The Brazilians will win kudos from leftists in Latin America by giving Zelaya protection. Amorim said Brazil was happy to play a role in any negotiated settlement.

Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Kieran Murray

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