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The Irish Times

Honduras Suspends Civil Liberties


Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya, holding up a copy of the Honduran Constitution, speaks during a press conference at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. Honduras' interim government leaders have suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in a pre-emptive strike against widespread rebellion Monday, three months to the day since they ousted Zelaya in a military-backed coup. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Honduras' interim leaders have suspended key civil liberties, empowering police and soldiers to break up "unauthorised" public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media.

The announcement came just hours after deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called on supporters to stage mass marches today marking the three-month anniversary of the June 28 coup that ousted him. Mr Zelaya described the marches as "the final offensive" against the interim government.

President Zelaya, who surprised the world when he returned to Honduras last Monday and sought refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, is demanding he be reinstated to office, and has said that the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti "has to fall."

The government announced the decree in a nationwide broadcast, saying it was "to guarantee peace and public order in the country and due to the calls for insurrection that Mr. Zelaya has publicly made."

The measure empowers police and soldiers to arrest without a warrant "any person who poses a danger to his own life or those of others," although unlike martial law, it requires that anyone arrested be turned over to civilian prosecutors. The Honduran Constitution forbids arrest without warrants except where a criminal is caught in the act.

The measure also permits authorities to temporarily close news media outlets that "attack peace and public order."

The media restrictions appear aimed at pro-Zelaya radio and television stations that — while subject to brief raids immediately after the coup — had been allowed to operate freely, openly criticising the government and broadcasting Zelaya's statements.

But under yesterday's order, authorities may now "prevent the transmission by any spoken, written or televised means, of statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law."

The decree states that the country's national telecommunications commission, known as Conatel, is authorised "through police and the armed forces ... to immediately suspend any radio station, cable or television network whose programming does not comply with these regulations."

The interim government also Sunday expelled personnel from the Organization of American States looking to set up a mediation effort and gave Brazil a 10-day ultimatum to either hand over Zelaya or give him political asylum and get him out of the country.

OAS Special Adviser John Biehl told reporters in the capital, Tegucigalpa, that he and four other members of an advance team — including two Americans, a Canadian and a Colombian — were stopped by authorities after landing at the international airport Sunday. Biehl, who is Chilean, said he was later told he could stay, but the others were put on planes leaving the country.

Mr Biehl said he was in Honduras to set up a visit by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, who he said would arrive "at the appropriate time."

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has previously said the OAS was welcome to come, but suggested that representatives begin arriving Monday. Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said that the team's arrival didn't come "at the right time ... because we are in the middle of internal conversations."

Talks between Zelaya and Micheletti's representatives have produced no results.

A Micheletti spokesman warned Brazilian authorities Sunday to "immediately take measures to ensure that Mr. Zelaya stops using the protection offered by the diplomatic mission to instigate violence in Honduras."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva immediately rejected the missive, saying his government "doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters."

Mr Micheletti didn't specify what he would do after 10 days. He has said previously that he plans to arrest Zelaya, who faces treason and abuse of authority charges for ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

Brazil - like the rest of the international community - recognizes Zelaya as Honduras' legitimate president, and says it wants to protect him.

The UN Security Council has issued a statement that "called upon the de facto government of Honduras to cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy."

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