Honduras’ de facto leader has offered for the first time to hold direct talks with ousted president Manuel Zelaya to resolve a political stand-off even as soldiers surrounded the embassy where he took refuge.
But Roberto Micheletti, president of the interim government that took power after a June 28 coup, added that Zelaya must first accept elections to choose a new president set for Nov. 29.
“I am ready to talk with Mr Zelaya, as long as he explicitly recognizes the presidential elections,” Micheletti said in a statement read late on Tuesday at a news conference by the interim government’s foreign minister, Carlos Lopez.
The statement said Micheletti was not proposing Zelaya’s return to office, but Lopez suggested the talks could be arranged by a delegation of foreign ministers from countries that belong to the Organization of American States.
The development came at the end of a day of rising tensions in which soldiers fired tear gas to disperse some 4,000 Zelaya supporters who gathered at the Brazilian embassy in support of the ousted president and in defiance of a curfew.
Troops surrounded the embassy and cut off electricity, water and telephone lines.
Airports were also closed and a curfew extended until yesterday evening, with human rights organizations accusing the interim government of carrying out mass arrests, injuring and even killing Zelaya supporters.
The leader of an indigenous rights organization, speaking to Cuban television by telephone, described violence at the embassy compound.
“These fascists have dared to surround the embassy of Brazil, have beaten people, they have killed two comrades and tortured people,” said Bertha Caceres of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.
Tirza Flores, a member of the group Judges for Democracy, described a “situation of total chaos” and said police were making “mass arrests.”
Four protesters were also said to have been shot and wounded in the skirmishes near the embassy.
The crisis prompted a flurry of statements from regional leaders, with Ecuador calling on the Micheletti government to ensure “the life and physical well-being of President Zelaya.”
The Rio Group, a regional organization of Latin American and Caribbean states, also issued a statement calling on the de facto government to cease its “acts of repression” and to ensure the safety of Zelaya and embassy officials.
The deposed leader, speaking to Venezuelan television station Telesur, accused the Micheletti government of planning to “seize the embassy” to capture him.
Micheletti denied the claims, ruling out a raid on the embassy.
“We have not considered, nor will there be, a raid on the embassy to capture Mr Manuel Zelaya,” said Martha Lorena Alvarado, a senior aide for the Micheletti government.
Meanwhile, supplies for an estimated 300 Brazilian diplomats, Zelaya supporters and journalists trapped inside were running low.
“We have no food here. There are about 10 small children in here who have had nothing to eat. We’re in a really bad way,” one Zelaya supporter said.
The US pledged to do what it could to help via its embassy in Tegucigalpa.
“It’s a very sensitive situation there on the ground, and I don’t want to get into the details of what kind of assistance we’re discussing,” US State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly told journalists in Washington.
Zelaya made his surprise return to Honduras on Monday, three months after being ousted in a military-backed coup, prompting the tense stand-off that has coincided with world leaders gathering for the UN General Assembly.
In New York, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described the country as “in a state of siege” and pledged his support to Zelaya, defying calls to give him up.
Lula said he had spoken to Zelaya by telephone on Monday and urged him to “be very careful not to allow any pretext for the coup plotters to resort to violence.”
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