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Honduran Congress Votes Against Zelaya's Return

Anahi Rama and Gustavo Palencia

Supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya gather outside the National Congress during a session to discuss his reinstatement, in Tegucigalpa December 2, 2009. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

TEGUCIGALPA - The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not
to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move
that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a
June coup.

Congress was deciding Zelaya's fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal
between the deposed leftist and the country's de facto leaders who took
power after the coup. The agreement left it up to Congress to decide if
Zelaya could return to the presidency until the end of his term in

The United States was hoping for Zelaya's reinstatement but Honduran
lawmakers resisted international pressure, with 111 of the 125 members
in session voting against Zelaya's return. Only 14 backed him in a vote
that finished late on Wednesday.

Hundreds of the toppled president's supporters protested outside the chamber.

"This decision ratifies a coup and condemns Honduras to continue
living in illegality," Zelaya told the local Radio Globo station.
Foreign lenders cut aid to the poor coffee- and textile- exporting
country to punish the coup leaders.

Zelaya has been holed up inside the heavily guarded Brazilian
Embassy since he slipped back into Honduras in September, with soldiers
threatening to arrest him if he steps outside. The vote throws his
future into question.

Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won a presidential election on
Sunday, which was scheduled before the coup. The vote could allow
Honduras to move on from the five-month crisis and focus on a new

The United States quickly recognized the election results but said the vote was only one step toward restoring democracy.

The stance has split the United States from Latin American powers
like Brazil and Argentina that say it is impossible to recognize an
election organized by a de facto government.


Lobo hails from the traditional ruling elite and is set to take
office on January 27. Zelaya being locked out of office amounts to a
victory for the coup leaders, some analysts say.

Lobo, a wealthy agricultural businessman and landowner from the same
province as Zelaya, has avoided questions about Zelaya's fate but may
end up offering him some sort of political amnesty to end his state of
limbo in the embassy.

"I am looking toward the future and you are asking: 'And Zelaya?'
Zelaya is history, he is part of the past," Lobo told foreign reporters
the day after the election.

Zelaya was rousted from his bed by soldiers and sent to Costa Rica
on a military plane on June 28 after he angered business leaders and
members of his own party by moving closer to Venezuela's socialist
president, Hugo Chavez.

The Supreme Court ordered his arrest, charging him with violating
the constitution, and Congress voted to strip him of his powers after
he was already exiled. Critics say he was aiming at a constitutional
overhaul in an attempt to stay in power, a charge he denies.

Human rights groups documented serious abuses by the de facto
government of Roberto Micheletti, including several deaths, as security
forces cracked down on Zelaya's supporters and anti-coup media outlets.

"Democracy here is in intensive care," said Cesar Ham a leftist congressman and presidential candidate who backs Zelaya.

Lobo's conservative National Party took a firm stance against Zelaya in Wednesday's session.

"If we reinstate Zelaya, it will be worse for the country, the
crisis would continue," National Party congressman Victor Barnica said.

Reporting by Anahi Rama and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Mica Rosenberg

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