(AFP) – Jun 27, 2009
TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) — Honduran President Manuel Zelaya forged ahead with his plans to hold a controversial constitutional referendum, despite growing international concern it could threaten the country's democracy.
Zelaya, elected in 2006 for a non-renewable four-year term, wants to hold a referendum to ask Hondurans if they approve of holding a vote on constitutional change in tandem with general elections in November -- a move that has been ruled illegal by the country's top court.
His four-year term ends in January, and current law prevents him from seeking re-election.
The president said the balloting will be held Sunday between 7:00 am (1300 GMT) and 4:00 pm (2200 GMT).
Local media reported that the ballot boxes for the vote had been distributed Friday amid a tense political climate, drawing international consternation.
"We are concerned about the breakdown in the political dialogue among Honduran politicians over the proposed June 28 poll on constitutional reform," said US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.
"We urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws, consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."
The Organization of American States (OAS), in a resolution approved late Friday in Washington, urged Honduran authorities to uphold the rule of law and seek "broad national dialogue."
Member nations also instructed OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to form a commission that would travel to Honduras in order to "analyze the facts and contribute to national dialogue."
The attempt by Zelaya, a leftist, to hold a referendum on changing the constitution has angered the country's top courts, the attorney general, military leaders and even his own party.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged "restraint by all concerned" amid rising political unrest in the country and expressed concern about the tensions, his press office said.
"It is important for the country's leaders to act with full respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, and to seek consensus on the pressing political issues through a peaceful and inclusive dialogue," a UN statement said.
The Honduran Congress approved late Thursday plans to investigate Zelaya and possibly declare him unfit to govern.
"We have tried to avoid breaching a constitutional order and sidestep a coup," said Congressional President Roberto Micheletti, a member of Zelaya's own Liberal Party who would legally take over if the president was deposed.
But late Friday, the president assured that the country "had returned to normality." However, he accused members of Congress of "conspiracy" and insisted that members of the armed forces owed his "obedience."
Zelaya, elected as a conservative in January 2006, shifted to the left and is the latest of a string of Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to seek constitutional changes to expand presidential powers and also ease term limits.
The government of leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed solidarity with Zelaya on Friday.
"We condemn those who want to disrupt the democratic process," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters. "We express our solidarity not only with the people, with democracy, but also with President Zelaya."
Zelaya sacked the country's top military chief, General Romeo Vasquez, late Wednesday, and also accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Edmundo Orellana, after military commanders refused to distribute ballot boxes for Sunday's vote. The heads of the army, marines and air force also resigned.
In a tense rebuttal of the president's moves, the Honduran Supreme Court unanimously voted Thursday to reinstate Vasquez.
Hundreds of troops were deployed Thursday in the capital Tegucigalpa in a bid to avoid possible disturbances, before returning to their barracks, in a move that some feared were indicative of a possible military coup.
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