martes, 29 de septiembre de 2009

Honduras to Restore Liberties After Criticism


Filed at 6:24 p.m. ET

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- The coup-installed government in Honduras is backing off of its increasingly desperate measures to hold onto power. Interim President Roberto Micheletti says an emergency decree restricting civil liberties for 45 days will soon be lifted. He made the statement Monday afternoon, less than a day after his government imposed the emergency order.

Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya tried to demonstrate in the Honduran capital, but riot police surrounded them and prevented them from marching. They sat down in the street and vowed not to move until their protest was allowed.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- The coup-installed government in Honduras took increasingly desperate measures to hold onto power Monday, suspending civil liberties, silencing dissident broadcasters and facing off with hundreds of protesters in the street.

The interim government of Roberto Micheletti, who took office after a June 28 coup, banned a march in support of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and ringed the protesters with riot police.

But at a meeting in Washington, the U.S. representative to the Organization of American States called Zelaya's return ''irresponsible and foolish.''

The marchers, many of whom covered their mouths with tape to protest government censorship, sat down in the street and vowed not to budge until they were allowed to demonstrate.

Protest leaders insisted that thousands more Zelaya supporters were trying to join but were stopped from leaving poorer neighborhoods or from traveling from the countryside.

''There is brutal repression against the people,'' Zelaya told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday from the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been holed up with 60 supporters since sneaking back into the country on Sept. 21.

Protests have seen little violence so far -- the government says three people have been killed since the coup, while protesters put the number at 10. But protest leader Juan Barahona said that could change.

''This mass movement is peaceful, but to the extent they repress us, fence us in and make this method useless, we have to find some other form of struggle,'' he said.

Authorities cited their fear of violence when they issued an emergency decree Sunday that limits civil liberties for 45 days. The decree bans unauthorized gatherings and lets police arrest people without warrants, rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution. It also allows authorities to shut news media for ''statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law.''

Government soldiers raided the offices of Radio Globo and the television station Channel 36, both critics of the Micheletti government, and silenced both. Afterward, the TV station broadcast only a test pattern.

Radio Globo employees scrambled out of an emergency exit to escape the raid that involved as many as 200 soldiers.

''They took away all the equipment,'' said owner Alejandro Villatoro. ''This is the death of the station.''

Two journalists covering the raid for Mexico's Televisa and Guatemala's Guatevision were beaten by security forces, who also took their camera, according to Guatemala's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Jorge Skinner. He asked the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission to intervene.

The OAS held an emergency meeting in Washington on Monday after Honduras expelled members of an OAS advance team trying to restart negotiations between the two sides. Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the team had not given advance notice of its arrival.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley condemned the expulsion.

''I think it's time for the de facto regime to put down the shovel,'' he said. ''With every action they keep on making the hole deeper.''

Lew Amselem, the U.S. representative to the OAS, also had harsh words for Zelaya. He said returning without an agreement ''serves neither the interests of the Honduran people nor those seeking the peaceful reestablishment of the democratic order in Honduras.''

He added: ''Those who facilitated President Zelaya's return ... have a special responsibility for the prevention of violence and the well-being of the Honduran people.'' He did not say to whom he was referring.

The increasingly authoritarian actions by the interim government signaled an abrupt shift in strategy after appealing for foreign support and arguing it ousted Zelaya to preserve democracy.

Only last week, Micheletti argued in a letter to the Washington Post that his government was not a coup, citing as evidence that freedom assembly was still allowed: ''They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant.''

He argued that the international community will have no choice but to recognize a Nov. 29 vote -- ''the ultimate civil exercise of any democracy -- a free and open presidential election.''

Zelaya supporters noted that the emergency decree effectively outlaws any campaigning until two weeks before election day.

''If they can't campaign ... what happens then to the electoral solution?'' asked protest leader Rafael Alegria.

That prospect drew criticism of the government even from conservative circles. National Party presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo said: ''We will not support nor approve anything that restricts freedom of expression.''

Analysts called the shift a sign that the Micheletti government is feeling increasingly threatened.

''It certainly shows that they're worried that Zelaya might be able to disrupt the government,'' said Heather Berkman, a Honduras expert with the New York-based Eurasia Group. ''Zelaya's only recourse really is to mobilize people on the streets. I'm sure that Micheletti and the government know that and they're going to do whatever they can to prevent that.''

She called it a risky move: ''They're damaging their own credibility, and really hurting the economy.''

And in a growing diplomatic feud, Micheletti's government on Sunday gave Brazil 10 days to turn over Zelaya for arrest or grant him asylum, presumably to remove him from Honduras. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his government ''doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters.''

Lopez said Brazil's withdrawal of its ambassador amounted to breaking relations, meaning the Embassy no longer has diplomatic immunity and implying authorities could raid it, though Micheletti has vowed not to do so.

International law expert Michael J. Glennon at Tufts University said such a raid would violate international law.

''One country can't say to another, we're de-recognizing you, this is no longer an embassy,'' Glennon said. ''I'm sure that that kind of subterfuge wouldn't work under international law.''


Associated Press writers contributing to this report included Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa and Martha Mendoza and Catherine Shoichet in Mexico City.

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