Interim Honduran leader deplores U.S. visa suspensions, insists Zelaya was legally removed

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - The Honduran leader installed in a coup criticized the United States on Thursday for revoking the diplomatic visas of four interim-government officials, saying such measures only complicate efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - The Honduran leader installed in a coup criticized the United States on Thursday for revoking the diplomatic visas of four interim-government officials, saying such measures only complicate efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti also continued to insist that President Manuel Zelaya was legally removed from office, saying "sadly, American leaders have ignored key facts from the first days of the crisis."

"Instead of imposing sanctions, the United States should support the mediation of (Costa Rican President Oscar) Arias to seek peaceful solutions," Micheletti said in a statement.

In his meandering document, Micheletti appeared at times open to a compromise that would restore Zelaya to power, but at other times seemed to close the door on that possibility.

The U.S. State Department suspended the visas Tuesday as mediation efforts stalled over the interim government's insistence that Zelaya cannot be returned to the presidency.

The State Department declined to name the officials, but the interim government identified them as the president of Congress, the defence minister, the national human rights ombudsman and the Supreme Court justice who signed the order for Zelaya's arrest.

As the negotiations drag on, Zelaya has ensconced his government-in-exile in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, near the Honduran border, along with hundreds of supporters camped out in shelters.

He warned Wednesday night that disgruntled military officers could rebel "at any moment" against the interim government and force his return. Zelaya said he has information that some soldiers and officers are unhappy with the leadership of military chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez.

"Have no doubt that at any moment, young military officers affected by the coup will tie up Romeo Vasquez Velasquez and force him to restore the constitutional order," Zelaya told reporters.

Soldiers arrested Zelaya on June 28, whisking him out of the country in a coup swiftly condemned by nearly all foreign governments.

Micheletti insisted soldiers were only following a Supreme Court order to arrest Zelaya for violating court orders and trying to hold a referendum on changing the constitution, although he acknowledged that the decision to exile the president could have been handled differently.

"But it's important to understand that decision in the context of palpable fear of Zelaya's proven ability to violate the law and instigate mob violence," Micheletti said.

Opponents say that Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who veered to the left in the middle of his presidency, was trying to emulate ally and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in seeking constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his term, which ends Jan. 27. Zelaya denies such intentions.

Micheletti said the compromise proposed by Arias last week, which would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government and offer amnesty to the coup's leaders, should be strengthened to "ensure that Zelaya abides by the constitution and allows the election of a new president in the November elections."

The agreement already stipulates that Zelaya must drop ambitions to change the constitution, but Micheletti said the ousted leader cannot be trusted to keep his word.

He reiterated his stance that Zelaya must be prosecuted if he returns to Honduras. However, he also said "if both sides reach an agreement and Zelaya is permitted to return" a moratorium on prosecuting the deposed leader could be considered.

The interim government has shown no sense of urgency in considering the agreement that Arias submitted to both sides last week.

Micheletti has turned the proposed deal to the Supreme Court and Congress for consideration, but the court has yet to respond and the legislature has yet to begin debating it.

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Associated Press Writer Filadelfo Aleman contributed to this report from Ocotal, Nicaragua.

 
 
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