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Coup-Backed Regime Lifts Rights Curbs in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA - The coup-backed government in Honduras on Monday lifted a decree restricting civil rights, in a step toward dialogue with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who is still holed up in Brazil's embassy.

Toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya speaks to the press at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. The coup-backed government in Honduras on Monday lifted a decree restricting civil rights, in a step toward dialogue with Zelaya, who is still holed up in Brazil's embassy. (AFP/Getty image) "We've abolished the decree in the Council of Ministers," de facto leader Roberto Micheletti told a news conference here.

Micheletti had imposed the 45-day decree suspending freedom of movement, assembly and speech on September 27, using it to shut down two opposition media outlets and stamp out protests by supporters of Zelaya.

The clampdown followed the surprise return home of Zelaya on September 21, almost three months after the June 28 coup.

Micheletti said earlier that he had decided to "totally annul" the decree because calm was returning to the country and because of the negative reaction of the international community.

Zelaya had joined calls for the decree be lifted ahead of talks between members of the two camps brokered by the Organization of American States (OAS), expected to start this week.

The talks were set to discuss an accord proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which includes Zelaya's brief reinstatement and elections for his successor.

Zelaya called Monday on the de facto government to "immediately" sign the Arias proposal, although Micheletti has long resisted because it would return to Zelaya to power.

But Micheletti hinted at a possible return for Zelaya in an interview Monday, underlining that that legal considerations would first have to be taken into account.

The de facto leaders are seeking to arrest Zelaya on a string of charges including treason and corruption.

"If there are transparent elections in the country and we elect a new president, we can talk about any scenario, any solution," Micheletti said.

Many international observers want polls scheduled for November 29 to go ahead.

Foreign ministers from the pan-American OAS and Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza were due in Honduras Wednesday in the new push for dialogue.

Zelaya told AFP in a telephone interview on Sunday from the Brazilian embassy that 90 percent of the issues holding up negotiations "have been resolved."

Zelaya is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, but under the current proposal, he would resume the presidency until an elected successor took office in January.

Soldiers ousted Zelaya amid a dispute with the country's elite over his plans to change the constitution, which many saw as a bid to seek a second term.

The International Monetary Fund on Monday said it would consider a request to assist the impoverished Central American nation, which has seen investments dry up this year, only after political stability was restored.

The United States, IMF and other international backers have frozen millions of dollars in loans and aid to Honduras over the crisis.

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