Ousted Honduran leader dismisses decree decision

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has dismissed the withdrawal of an emergency decree that curbed civil liberties, calling it a meaningless gesture from a coup-imposed government that refuses to restore him to power.

Tegucigalpa: Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has dismissed the withdrawal of an emergency decree that curbed civil liberties, calling it a meaningless gesture from a coup-imposed government that refuses to restore him to power.

Two pro-Zelaya media outlets that were closed under the decree said the government had not returned seized equipment, preventing them from re-establishing normal operations. Channel 36 owner Esdras Amado Lopez called the lifting of the decree "a lie aimed at deceiving the international community."

Zelaya criticized Interim President Roberto Micheletti for lifting the emergency decree Monday only after security forces arrested dozens of protesters and closed down two critical media outlets. He expressed frustration that interim leaders continue to oppose his reinstatement less than two months before Nov. 29 presidential elections.

"Roberto Micheletti continues to mock the people, declaring that he is completely revoking the decree after achieving the most possible harm," Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters, said in a statement Tuesday.

The ousted president — who was visited Tuesday by four European Union Parliament members on a fact-finding mission — said refusal to return him to power "puts the electoral process at risk and deepens the institutional and political crisis in our beloved Honduras."

Even many backers of the June 28 coup had denounced the Sept. 27 emergency decree, arguing that it undermined the interim government`s portrayal of itself as a democracy and could damage the validity of the presidential election that Micheletti hopes will make Zelaya`s demands moot.

The decree was imposed after Zelaya supporters staged large-scale demonstrations and clashed with security forces after the ousted president sneaked back into the country and sought refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

Micheletti said Monday the decree had been necessary to control the burning of vehicles and businesses by protesters, and was imposed after officials learned of plans for more such actions. He said Monday that he had ordered the decree revoked.

The main effect of the decree was to close down the two main pro-Zelaya media outlets, Radio Globo and Channel 36, and Micheletti said they would remain shut down until their owners "come to the courts to recover their right to be on the air."

"We thought that when the decree was revoked, the equipment would be returned, but that has not happened," said Yesenia Herculano, an activist with Honduras` Committee for Free Expression. "There has been no progress."

Police arrested several dozen people and lodged sedition charges against 38 of them.

On Tuesday, Zelaya supporters demonstrated at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa in the first street protest since Micheletti revoked the Sept. 27 decree. More than 100 police and soldiers equipped with riot shields and helmets stood by.

Meanwhile, 12 people active in protests sought political asylum in the Guatemalan Embassy.

Maria Cruz Alfaro, a pro-Zelaya activist, said the 12 Lenca Indians, including several children, have been harassed by security forces over the past three months and have had several friends beaten and arrested for taking part in anti-coup protests. "They are afraid," she said.

Salvador Zuniga, a representative of an indigenous rights organization, said Guatemalan officials were processing the asylum requests. If denied, the asylum-seekers might try to stay inside the Embassy and wage a hunger strike, he said.

Zelaya was forced from office with the backing of the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court for trying to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution. His opponents charged he wanted to lift the charter`s provision limiting presidents to a single term — an accusation he denies.

With the backing of much of the international community, Zelaya is seeking to be reinstated to serve out his term, which ends in January. The U.S. has suspended millions of dollars in aid to Honduras, and its ambassador has refused to meet with Micheletti, in hopes of pressuring the interim government to relinquish power.
Victor Rico, an Organization of American States official, said he was optimistic a resolution would be reached. Zelaya and Micheletti representatives have been in informal talks ahead of a visit of foreign ministers from the region Wednesday.

"We`re advancing well. We are still reasonably optimistic," Rico told reporters.

Micheletti, in a brief nationally televised address, welcomed talks sponsored by the OAS that he predicted would be "more effective, more systematic" than previous efforts to resolve the crisis.

Micheletti spokeswoman Marcia Facusse repeated that the interim president had offered to step down if Zelaya agreed to renounce his claim to the presidency, something the ousted leader has refused to do.

"From there we can find a place to start the dialogue because the conflict would cease to be about two men and become a search for what`s best for the country," Facusse told HRN radio.

Bureau Report