Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Honduras lifts emergency decree

CIVIL LIBERTIES Ousted president Manuel Zelaya expressed doubts and said he would wait to see if the government released people arrested for joining protests


The interim Honduran government has lifted an emergency decree that prohibited protest marches and limited other civil liberties, clearing the way for possible new demonstrations over the political standoff in the country.

Supporters of ousted president Manuel Zelaya were expected to march yesterday in the capital, a day before an Organization of American States summit of regional foreign ministers was due to arrive for talks aimed at ending the impasse over control of the government.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti said on Monday that the decree, which resulted in dozens of arrests and the closing of two pro-Zelaya media outlets, “has been completely revoked,” but Zelaya expressed doubts.

“Let’s see if they free the campesinos and end the oppression of the people, or if this is one more trick,” Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian embassy with dozens of supporters, told the Venezuela-based TV network Telesur.

Micheletti did not say whether the lifting of the decree would take effect immediately. He had said in a morning television interview that it was to be formally repealed yesterday when the new order was published in the government’s official gazette.

Honduras’ interim leaders issued the emergency order on Sept. 27 in response to “calls for insurrection” by Zelaya as the ousted president sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy after sneaking back into the country.

The decree empowered police and soldiers to break up public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media, with armed troops stationed throughout the capital to enforce the order.

It drew criticism even from judges and congressional leaders who backed Zelaya’s ouster in a June 28 military-backed coup that was condemned by much of the rest of the world, including the US and the UN. Many complained the decree would disrupt campaigning for next month’s presidential election they hope will resolve the crisis.

Human rights groups have complained of unjustified arrests and the persecution of peaceful protesters, but Micheletti defended the measure to reporters as a legitimate response to an organized campaign against the government “led” by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The interim Honduran leader said the step was taken because they had learned that more burnings of vehicles and businesses were planned and “we weren’t going to allow it.”

The main effect of the order was to close down the two main pro-Zelaya media outlets, Radio Globo and Channel 36, and it was used to block protest marches for several days. Zelaya supporters eventually ventured out to demonstrate, but in much smaller numbers than before.

While the decree was in force, the government also retook control of a government Agrarian Institute building that had been occupied by protesters. They detained about 55 people and lodged sedition charges against 38, who were still in custody over the weekend.

Police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said about 1,000 people were detained for violating a curfew that was imposed before the decree.

Radio Globo has been broadcasting over the Internet. The station’s owner, Alejandro Villatoro, said authorities seized his station’s equipment and he did not know when it would be able to resume normal operations.

Asked if the stations could now broadcast, Micheletti said they “will have to come to the courts to recover their right to be on the air.”

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