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Honduran lawmakers debate ousted leader's future under international pressure to restore him

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Honduran lawmakers debated ousted President Manuel Zelaya's future Wednesday under international pressure to reinstate him or face more isolation, despite an election that has chosen his successor.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Honduran lawmakers debated ousted President Manuel Zelaya's future Wednesday under international pressure to reinstate him or face more isolation, despite an election that has chosen his successor.

It's unlikely to make a difference. The interim administration has already resisted months of diplomatic arm-twisting, and has long predicted Sunday's election would weaken demands for Zelaya's return.

Lawmakers who already voted once to support Zelaya's overthrow insist they won't be swayed. And Zelaya himself says he won't return for a token two months even if asked.

Still, many Latin American governments warn they will not restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo unless Zelaya is allowed to finish his term, which ends Jan. 27.

Lawmakers from Lobo's conservative National Party said they would vote the same way they did on June 28, when Congress kicked Zelaya out of office. That decision came hours after soldiers stormed into Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile in his pyjamas.

"I believe we are going to ratify what we decided on June 28, National Party lawmaker Johnny Handal told The Associated Press as the session was starting.

The 128-member, unicameral Congress is dominated by Zelaya's Liberal Party, which largely turned against him in a dispute over changing the constitution. Antonio Rivera, another lawmaker from the National Party, said he believed most Liberals would also vote against restoring Zelaya.

Congressional President Jose Alfredo Saavedra, of the Liberal Party, insisted he felt no pressure from abroad, saying he had met with diplomats of many countries and none had suggested he vote one way the other.

"Congress has not been the object of pressure of any nature," Saavedra told Channel 5. "Nobody, absolutely nobody, has dared to insinuate what the route should be."

Lobo, a wealthy rancher, won the regularly scheduled presidential vote that Honduras' interim leaders insist shows their country's democracy is intact.

Many Latin American countries, especially left-led governments, say recognizing the election would amount to legitimizing Central America's first coup in 20 years.

"If this state of affairs is allowed to remain, democracy will be at serious risk in Latin and Central America," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Tuesday

The Western Hemisphere, however, is divided.

President Barack Obama's administration is urging Zelaya's reinstatement but has stopped short of making it a condition for recognizing Lobo's government. Costa Rica, Peru, Panama and Colombia share the U.S. stance.

Zelaya's reinstatement is not required by a U.S.-brokered pact designed to end the political impasse that was signed by both the deposed leader and interim President Roberto Micheletti.

The pact requires only that a unity government be created for the remainder of Zelaya's term and it leaves the decision on restoring Zelaya to office up to Congress. Zelaya signed the deal after congressional leaders indicated they were open to voting him back into power, but chances for that look increasingly slim.

Zelaya now says he will not resume the presidency even if Congress votes him back in, saying the agreement was broken when lawmakers delayed their vote until after the presidential election, ensuring he would have less than two months remaining in office.

Congress could delay its decision even longer. Saavedra said that lawmakers must consider extensive opinions submitted by the Supreme Court and other institutions and the discussion could last until at least Friday.

The Supreme Court recommended that Zelaya not be reinstated because he faces charges of abusing power and other infractions.

Zelaya was deposed for ignoring a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum that would have asked Hondurans if they wanted an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

His supporters say the initiative was meant to shake up a political system dominated by two parties with little ideological difference and controlled by a few wealthy families. Zelaya's opponents say his real goal was to lift the constitutional ban on presidential re-election, as his leftist ally Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela.

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Associated Press Writer Juan Carlos Llorca contributed to this report.

 
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