Honduran leaders defy world

TEGUCIGALPA: Coup leaders in Honduras vowed that ousted President Manuel Zelaya will "never return to power" despite mounting international pressure and an ultimatum by the Organization of American States.

The crisis entered its fifth day Thursday with no break in the impasse between the international community and backers of a military coup that pulled Zelaya out of bed on Sunday and sent him into exile in his pajamas.

The OAS threatened Honduras with suspension if it did not restore Zelaya to power in 72 hours, but interim president Roberto Micheletti told AFP in an exclusive interview, "We can't negotiate anything."

"We can't reach an agreement because there are orders to capture the ex-president Zelaya here for crimes he committed when he was an official," he said, speaking in the half-deserted presidential palace after swearing in new members of his cabinet.

"He'll never return to power," Micheletti said of Zelaya, a leftist who angered the political establishment here by trying to hold a referendum to make constitutional changes that would allow him to run for a second term.

Zelaya was biding his time in Panama where he attended the inauguration of that country's new president Wednesday after meeting with US officials in Washington.

He had vowed to return to Honduras on Thursday but put it off while the clock ticked on the OAS ultimatum.

"We will wait 72 hours in order to continue with this process," Zelaya told reporters in Panama City.

If the OAS suspends Honduras, it would be only the second country to be thrown out since Cuba in 1962.

The New York Times reported that OAS officials said they had begun informal discussions with "political actors" close to the new government to find common ground for a peaceful resolution.

An OAS official told the Times that the organization's secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, was headed to Tegucigalpa on Thursday for further talks.

Meanwhile, the international community continued to pour pressure on Honduras.

The Inter-American Development Bank on Wednesday halted aid, following a similar move by the World Bank.

The United States indicated it may follow suit, saying it would wait until Monday before making a decision.

The Pentagon suspended all military activities with Tegucigalpa until further notice, a spokesman said.

Italy on Wednesday joined France and Spain in recalling its ambassador to Honduras, while the 27 nations of the European Union agreed to have no contact with the leadership of Sunday's coup.

"I have just spoken to my European colleagues and I can tell you that at this moment, all the European embassies in Tegucigalpa have decided to withdraw their ambassadors," Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Spanish national radio late on Wednesday.

"I think that it is a clear sign of the position of Europe, of the international community, and the provisional authorities (in Honduras) must reflect on it," he said.

Micheletti said he was sending a delegation to the United States next week to explain the coup leaders' side of the story, and insisted the impoverished nation would still receive aid.

"You know that the European Union isn't going to cut help to this country, nor will the North Americans," Micheletti said.

He suggested that Honduras would muddle through until scheduled presidential elections November 29 and a new government takes office in January.

"Once we elect our new authorities they (the international community) will have the freedom to open spaces to those new authorities," he said.

The white-haired, firm-speaking Micheletti said his concern was with the people inside Honduras.

"We have commitments with our country. We don't need to settle things with anyone," he said.

"If the international community considers we have committed crimes, or some error, they can condemn us and that's it."

Meanwhile, authorities have extended a 10 pm to 5 am curfew to Friday and have suspended some liberties guaranteed by the constitution.

"The regulation authorizes keeping people detained for more than 24 hours and suspending guarantees like freedom to assemble, and the right to free movement," said leftist deputy Doris Gutierrez.