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Honduras candidates back negotiated solution to coup

Ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya (L) sits with Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom during a visit to Guatemala City September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Presidencia de la Republica de Guatemala/Handout

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - The front-runners in Honduras’ presidential race backed a negotiated solution to the country’s political crisis on Wednesday, but stopped short of calling for the return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

The candidates said they supported the efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to resolve the crisis touched off by the June coup that forced Zelaya into exile.

Arias has proposed that Zelaya return to office to serve out the remainder of his term, while coup participants would be given amnesty, but the de facto government has refused to consider any deal that would allow Zelaya back.

The candidates stressed they were not speaking on behalf of the de facto government.

Zelaya was arrested and flown out of the country by the military on June 28 after he angered the judiciary by seeking constitutional changes that would allow presidents to seek reelection.

The leftist leader, who allied himself with Venezuela’s anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez, has denied he intended to prolong his stay in power.

Zelaya’s supporters say the de facto government is seeking to hold out until the general elections on November 29 in order to legitimize the coup.

The United States cut more than $30 million in aid to the country earlier this month as it stepped up pressure on the coup leaders. Washington has also warned it could not recognize the elections as legitimate because of Zelaya’s ouster.

Writing by Robert Campbell; editing by Todd Eastham