US lawmakers to meet interim leader
TEGUCIGALPA: A U.S. senator and three congressmen plan to meet Friday with Honduras' interim leader in defiance of official Washington policy barring contact with the architects of the military coup that ousted the nation's president.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint intends to meet with interim President Roberto Micheletti as well as members of the Central American nation's Supreme Court, election officials and business and civic leaders during the fact-finding trip, said Wesley Denton, a spokesman for the senator.
The visit comes as President Barack Obama's administration seeks to isolate the interim government and use other forms of pressure — including suspending aid and canceling the visas of some members of the country's wealthy elite — in hopes of returning ousted President Manuel Zelaya to serve the remaining months of his term.
DeMint, one of a number of U.S. conservatives who have defended Zelaya's ouster on June 28 in Central America's first coup in more than a decade, supports the interim government plan to hold elections Nov. 29.
"The best solution to the crisis in Honduras is free and fair democratic elections that allow the Honduran people to decide their own future," DeMint said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
The international community has made it clear that the vote will not be recognized unless Zelaya is reinstated.
Zelaya was ousted after he ignored Supreme Court orders to halt efforts to revamp the constitution. His opponents argue that he intended to extend his time in power — a charge that Zelaya denies. He has been holed-up in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters since sneaking back into the country on Sept. 21.
A Republican conservative, DeMint has called Zelaya "a Chavez-style dictator" in reference to Venezuelan leftist President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States.
Along with DeMint, the congressional delegation includes Republicans Aaron Schock and Peter Roskam of Illinois, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado.
Their visit is one of a number of diplomatic efforts under way as a grinding standoff continues for control of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, with heavily armed troops preventing Zelaya's supporters from approaching the embassy and opposition media outlets forced off the air under an emergency decree that limits civil liberties including freedom of the press and assembly.
Micheletti has vowed to arrest Zelaya, but a Brazilian delegation visiting Thursday said it received assurances from the Supreme Court that the embassy would not be attacked.
Micheletti, who issued the decree amid pro-Zelaya street protests, said he would study calls to repeal it but gave no deadline.
On Monday, Micheletti said he would accept calls from Congress to rescind the measure and resolve the issue by week's end.
Brazilian officials have expressed concern about the status and safety of the embassy after the security forces fired tear gas and used loudspeakers in an apparent attempt to harass Zelaya and the supporters.
"This has created a complex situation," said Congressman Ivan Valente, one of the visiting Brazilian delegates. He said they "hope to contribute to a lowering of tensions."
Also Thursday, the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed a proposal by Latin American countries calling for an immediate end to human rights violations since the putsch.
The Geneva-based council, of which the United States is a member, also called for the restoration of Zelaya's government.
The coup-installed government has shrugged off international condemnation, but is coming under increasing pressure from political, civic and business leaders who had supported Zelaya's ouster and now back plans to return him to power with limited authority.