World

Honduras sets deadline in Zelaya standoff

Honduras set a 10-day deadline for Brazil to decide what to do with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who has holed up at its embassy since sneaking back into the Central American country last week.

Honduras has set a 10-day deadline for Brazil to decide what to do with ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who has holed up at the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into the Central American country last week.

The government of interim leader Roberto Micheletti, who has been in charge since a June 28 coup that deposed Zelaya, said Sunday it will take "additional measures" if Brazil does not define Zelaya's status.

The statement, relayed by a presidential spokesman, urged Brazil "to immediately take measures to ensure that Mr. Zelaya stops using the protection offered by the diplomatic mission to instigate violence in Honduras."

The Micheletti government did not specify what actions it is considering if Brazil does not act. In the past, the government has said it has no plans to raid the embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

The interim government also issued a decree allowing it to suspend freedom of speech, ban protests and suspend media groups because of "disturbances of the peace," Reuters reported.

On Sunday, it expelled personnel from the Organization of American States looking to set up a mediation effort.

Interim Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said four members of the team were turned back at the airport in Tegucigalpa because they had been "clearly warned" that they had to give advance notice of their visit, and didn't.

Zelaya has called on his followers to oppose the Micheletti administration, which vows to arrest him on charges of treason and abuse of authority for repeatedly ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

But the government has suggested he could be allowed to leave if another country offers him political asylum.

Brazil said previously that Zelaya's arrival took embassy officials by surprise, and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asked Zelaya "to take care to give no pretext to the coup leaders to engage in violence."

Brazil — like the rest of the international community — recognizes Zelaya as Honduras's legitimate president and says it wants to protect him.

On Tuesday, baton-wielding soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands of Zelaya supporters gathered outside the embassy.

Embassy surrounded

Since then, the mission has been surrounded by police and soldiers. Zelaya and about 65 supporters inside accused authorities of temporarily cutting off water and electricity early in the week, and later said the government released an unidentified gas that caused headaches, nosebleeds and nausea.

Brazilian chargé d'affaires Francisco Catunda confirmed that Saturday: "Yes, it was released," he said in a rare interview outside the building. "One of our officials felt it — felt symptoms."

Catunda added that some people had throat problems, but did not give details.

On Friday, the UN Security Council issued a statement that "called upon the de facto government of Honduras to cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy."

A Honduran rights group, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, said Saturday that independent medical personnel entered the embassy and confirmed there were some symptoms. But Zelaya was in good health.

New talks to resolve the dispute began after Zelaya reappeared in Honduras following what he described as a secret, 15-hour journey, and many nations have announced they would send diplomatic representatives back to Honduras to support negotiations.

But the government said Sunday it would not automatically accept ambassadors back from some nations that withdrew their envoys.

Countries such as Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela would have to negotiate re-establishing diplomatic relations with the Foreign Ministry and re-accredit their diplomatic representatives, the government said.

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