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Showdown Looms in Honduras: Rival Vows to Arrest Ousted President on His Return

Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa at dawn on June 28 and ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The coup was mostly peaceful, though tanks and soldiers occupied streets in the Honduran capital.

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As the rally was underway, a small, anxious but growing group of Honduran lawmakers sought to build a coalition to endorse a compromise measure to allow for Zelaya's return. According to one participant in the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of derailing the negotiations, the compromise would include a general amnesty for everyone involved, including the coup leaders and members of the military, while Zelaya would have to abandon his plan to hold a referendum that could lead to a change in the Honduran constitution.

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Critics have charged that Zelaya in his nonbinding referendum was seeking a change in the constitution that would allow him to serve for more than one term as president.

The lawmakers seeking a compromise, however, have not yet begun to work with U.S. diplomats here, according to U.S. Embassy press officer Chantal Dalton. "They haven't been in contact with us," Dalton said. "This is smoke and signals. Nobody here has heard anything."

At the United Nations, Zelaya said he would agree not to push his referendum. "I'm not going to hold a constitutional assembly," he said. "And if I'm offered the chance to stay in power, I won't. I'm going to serve my four years."

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher and timber baron, said he would go back to his farm after his term ends in January. "I come from the countryside, and I'm going to go back to the countryside," he said.

The streets of Tegucigalpa were calm Tuesday, though the city is awash in rumors that Venezuela is marshaling forces for a possible invasion.

Micheletti cautioned the world that his army was on alert and prepared to defend the country. Honduran reservists have been called to their barracks to donate blood.

"Our army also consists of 7.5 million people prepared to defend freedom and liberty," said Micheletti, who stressed that Hondurans are a peaceful people.

Media outlets friendly to Zelaya have been shut down, and some reporters are hiding -- as are a dozen members of Zelaya's former cabinet. Most Hondurans must rely on newspapers and television stations that support the coup. Cable news outlets such as CNN en Español have occasionally been blacked out, though it is still possible to get outside news via satellite.

Micheletti and his supporters insist that the world does not understand what happened here. They say that Zelaya was found guilty by a Supreme Court tribunal, that his arrest by the military was legal and that Zelaya was attempting to circumvent Honduras's Congress and courts by staging the referendum.

The interim president said he thought his country could hold out long enough for world opinion to turn its way. Venezuela has said it would suspend oil shipments, and Honduras's neighbors -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua -- announced that they would stop overland trade.


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