Honduras Targets Protesters With Emergency Decree

Media in Country Also Feel Pressure

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.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 2, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, July 1 -- The new Honduran government clamped down on street protests and news organizations Wednesday as lawmakers passed an emergency decree that limits public gatherings following the military-led coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya from office.

The decree also allows for suspects to be detained for 24 hours and continues a nighttime curfew. Media outlets complained that the government was ordering them not to report any news or opinion that could "incite" the public.

A dozen former ministers from the Zelaya government remain in hiding, some hunkered down in foreign embassies, fearing arrest. News organizations here remain polarized. Journalists working for small independent media -- or for those loyal to Zelaya -- have reported being harassed by officials.

Before emergency measures were tightened, thousands of protesters rallied Wednesday to urge Zelaya's return. They were answered by counterdemonstrations in support of the new government. Local radio reported that several bombs were found but safely defused.

Zelaya vowed that he would come back to Honduras over the weekend, while the newly appointed interim president, Roberto Micheletti, repeated in a news conference Wednesday "that when he comes into the country, he will be arrested."

Asked whether Honduras could withstand international isolation and risk losing the foreign aid that keeps the impoverished nation running, Micheletti said, "You know that the Europeans are not going to cut the aid to our country, nor will the Americans."

But on Wednesday, the Inter-American Development Bank did suspend aid, after a similar move by the World Bank. As the impasse continued in Honduras, diplomats at the Organization of American States struggled to organize a mission that would restore Zelaya to power and avoid a clash between him and the military that ousted him.

After nearly 12 hours of debate, the OAS approved a resolution shortly before dawn Wednesday that called on its secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, to undertake every effort to reinstate Zelaya. If Insulza did not succeed within 72 hours, Honduras would be suspended from the OAS, the main forum for political cooperation in the hemisphere.

The passage of the resolution prompted Zelaya to postpone a trip home he had scheduled for Thursday, which diplomats had feared could sharply escalate tensions in the Central American country.

"I am going to return to Honduras. I am the president," Zelaya told reporters Wednesday. But he added that he did not want to complicate the diplomatic efforts of the OAS over the next few days.

Insulza faces an unusually complex task in trying to reverse the coup. Normally, he would negotiate with the de facto government for the return of the deposed president. But OAS members, furious about the military ouster, do not want him to talk to Micheletti, for fear that would legitimize the new regime.

Even hard-core coup backers here say they were surprised how quickly and forcefully the Latin American countries condemned their actions.

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