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Diplomats Converge on Honduras for talks

by Ben Fox

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Diplomats from throughout the hemisphere were converging Wednesday on Honduras to resolve a standoff that has left the impoverished Central American country with two presidents, a capital scarred by protests and a bitterly divided population.

A supporter of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya shouts as she holds up a candle during a demonstration in Tegucigalpa October 6, 2009. The chance of a negotiated end to the Honduran crisis crept closer on Tuesday as mediators set up talks between de facto leaders and Zelaya, trapped by soldiers inside Brazil's embassy. (REUTERS/Henry Romero) Delegates from more than 10 Latin and North American countries will be on hand to mediate talks between representatives of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted by the military three months ago, and the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has the support of Honduras' Congress and Supreme Court but has faced intense international pressure to allow his predecessor's return.

Micheletti set an optimistic tone in a national address late Tuesday, saying the talks would address with a "new spirit" the main issues of dispute over the San Jose Accord, a plan brokered by Nobel Prize-winning former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

"To consolidate political stability and normalize our country's relations with the international community, I believe the time is right to intensify the national dialogue," he said in the brief speech.

Micheletti did not go into specifics, but said two crucial issues would be discussion of the "powers of the state" and amnesty, apparent references to the key areas of dispute over the San Jose Accord, which would allow Zelaya to return without being prosecuted for his alleged crimes.

Some political observers have said members of the Micheletti government will also need amnesty for any involvement in the ouster of Zelaya, who was still in his pajamas when he was forced at gunpoint into a military truck and whisked by plane into exile in Costa Rica in a June 28 coup.

Micheletti spokeswoman Marcia Facusse repeated that the interim president had offered to step down if Zelaya agreed to renounce his claim to the presidency, something the ousted leader has refused to do.

"From there we can find a place to start the dialogue because the conflict would cease to be about two men and become a search for what's best for the country," Facusse told HRN radio.

Zelaya was forced from office for trying to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution. His opponents charged he wanted to lift the charter's provision limiting presidents to a single term _ an accusation he denies.

Zelaya sneaked back into the country last month and remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters. He has not announced any plans to leave his refuge, and will be represented in the talks by members of his deposed government.

The U.S., along with much of the rest of the international community, has called for Zelaya, as the democratically elected president, to be returned to office to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in January. New elections are scheduled for Nov. 29.

The talks were brokered by the Organization of American States and the delegates were expected to include OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza as well as representatives of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries in the region.

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