TEGUCIGALPA — Diplomats from across the Americas Wednesday opened a fresh attempt to resolve a political crisis triggered by the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya more than three months ago.
Talks led by Organization of American States (OAS) chief Jose Insulza got under way after midday with a delegation of five foreign ministers, three deputy foreign ministers and the US deputy secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs, Thomas Shannon.
"We are not here to make mutual recriminations. We are here to look for specific solutions to a situation that cannot go on any longer," said Insulza.
Police meanwhile launched tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters outside the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya has been holed with supporters since returning to the country by surprise last month.
Elsewhere in the capital, army troops and police special operations officers were heavily deployed in a bristling show of force as the talks began in a Tegucigalpa hotel.
Zelaya's representatives at the talks are insisting he be restored to power unconditionally by October 15.
Reinstating him any later, they said, risked causing a delay in presidential and legislative elections currently planned for November 29.
"Our principles are not negotiable," Zelaya said on Canal 11 television. "What we can negotiate on are the steps that have to be taken for the principles to be put in place, like carrying out the reinstatement of the president.
Envoys for the de facto government led by interim leader Roberto Micheletti back a plan to hold elections before allowing any reinstatement of the deposed president.
That position has led Zelaya to charge that the de facto regime "is planning to prolong its hold on power, deepening the crisis."
The negotiators said they also plan to meet Wednesday with Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy and with Micheletti at his presidential office.
Zelaya, forced out of the country at gunpoint on June 28 while still in his pajamas, surreptitiously returned to the Honduran capital on September 21, almost three months after the army-backed coup.
Micheletti and other Zelaya foes charge that the elected president overstepped his authority by seeking changes in the constitution that would allow him to run for a second term.
Once in office, Zelaya, a Stetson-wearing rancher, veered to the left and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, alienating business interests and some army officers.
There has been little sign from either side that they might ease their hardened positions, although Micheletti did call for a dialogue with Zelaya to coincide with the OAS mission.
"My government is convening a round table in a new spirit to address issues that have been under consideration as part of documents of the San Jose dialogue" mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Micheletti said in a national radio and television address.
But Zelaya, whose mandate as president had been set to end on January 27, 2010, said he could place no trust in a dialogue with the interim leadership.
"The phenomenal stubbornness of its not handing the presidency to the legitimately elected president endangers" future elections and deepens the political morass, he said.
Micheletti allowed for the first time on Monday that Zelaya might be able to return to power after the elections through the end of his term, although he has not referred to that possibility again since then.
Under intense international pressure, Micheletti did, however, reverse a decree this week restricting freedom of speech and assembly, which had been used to justify the shuttering of a radio station and television broadcaster critical of his regime.
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