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Ousted Leader Calls for Final Offensive in Honduras
TEGUCIGALPA - The stakes rose in Honduras Sunday after ousted leader Manuel Zelaya, holed up at Brazil's embassy in Tegucigalpa, called on his supporters for a final offensive -- and coup leaders respond by giving Brazil a harsh warning.
Zelaya, who has been in the embassy since he made a surprise return almost one week ago, called on his supporters to converge on the capital on Monday, exactly three months after the coup.
"We're making a patriotic ... call to resistance across all national territory," Zelaya said Saturday in a statement handed to an AFP photographer inside the embassy.
He called on his supporters to peacefully march to the capital for a "final offensive against the de facto government."
Shortly after, the regime gave Brazil up to 10 days to define Zelaya's status in a statement read on national television.
It urged "that Mr. Zelaya immediately stop using the protection that Brazil's diplomatic mission gives him to instigate violence in Honduras."
The statement warned that "if that's not done, we'll be forced to take supplementary measures under international law," without elaborating.
The interim government -- which took over after Zelaya was ousted in late June at the height of a dispute over his plans to change the constitution -- promised not to attack the "integrity" of the embassy.
They are seeking to arrest Zelaya for violating the constitution.
The UN Security Council on Friday warned the interim Honduran regime headed by Roberto Micheletti not to harass the embassy, as Brazilian officials complained it was "under siege."
Several thousand Zelaya supporters took to the streets again Saturday, in a march on foot and in scores of cars, waving red flags, honking horns and calling for him to return to office.
Zelaya said Saturday that the regime had not responded to a call for dialogue which he made after returning to the country, but had replied "with more repression against the people."
"It's the only place in the world where there's an embassy under siege," said Francisco Catunda, the Brazilian charge d'affaires.
Most people inside the embassy were in good health, Catunda said, adding that one Brazilian diplomat told him he had smelled gas the previous day, after Zelaya accused the army of trying to poison him and some 60 people still inside the compound by pumping noxious gases into the building -- a charge roundly denied by Honduran officials.
Demonstrators have come daily to the embassy compound, which is surrounded by anti-riot police and soldiers, to show their support for the embattled head of state.
"Thanks, Brazil, for protecting Mel from this vile regime," one banner read, using Zelaya's popular nickname.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, at a meeting of African and South American leaders in Venezuela, cautioned against "backsliding" on democracy in Honduras and throughout Latin America.
"We fought hard to sweep military dictatorships into the trash can of history, we can not allow these kind of setbacks in our continent," he said.
As efforts to mediate struggled to get off the ground, European Union countries decided to send back their envoys who were withdrawn after the coup, but said that did not mean they recognized the interim regime.
A daytime curfew was lifted Thursday and airports reopened, allowing businesses to resume and providing relief to an increasingly frustrated public. A nighttime curfew remained in place.
The United Nations on Wednesday froze its technical support for a presidential vote scheduled for November.
Regime authorities still wish to carry out the vote, which they say is the best exit to the crisis.
"We're losing guarantees for free elections and in these conditions the people will question and fail to recognize the electoral process and its results," Zelaya said.
A police spokesman told AFP Wednesday that two people had been killed in pro-Zelaya protests since the start of the week, and rights groups have voiced concern about clampdowns on demonstrators and local media.