Ousted president plans to return to Honduras

FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – A top aide said exiled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was heading home Thursday to set up an alternative seat of government inside the country, and will use it as his headquarters in a “final battle” against the coup leaders.

Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, said he is “on his way” back, but refused to say how or when he planned to enter Honduras. Zelaya’s current whereabouts are unclear and the leaders who replaced him after the military sent him into exile have vowed to arrest him if he returns.

“Our president will be in Honduras at some point and some moment. He is already on his way. God protect him and the people of the Americas who are with him,” Rodas told reporters in La Paz, Bolivia, where she joined a meeting of leftist presidents.

“The establishment and installation of an alternative seat of government will be to direct what I will call the final battle” against leaders of the coup that toppled Zelaya, she said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – an ally of Zelaya – said he had spoken with Zelaya and the exiled leader told him: “I don’t know if I will die, but I’m going to Honduras.”

Delegations representing Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti are expected to join a second round of talks Saturday under the guidance of Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican president who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts that helped resolve Central America’s civil wars.

When he was last seen in public, Zelaya vowed to return if Saturday’s talks don’t immediately result in his reinstatement, and said Hondurans have a constitutional right to launch an insurrection against an illegitimate government.

Rodas reinforced that, saying that Zelaya’s delegation has nothing to negotiate. It will simply demand that the “illegal regime surrender peacefully,” and if it doesn’t, Zelaya’s side will declare the mediation to have failed, she said.

Prospects for finding common ground appeared slim.

Micheletti, the former congressional leader who was sworn in to serve out the final months of Zelaya’s term, offered Wednesday to step down if there were guarantees that Zelaya would not return to power.

Arias said that proposal is unacceptable: “The restoration of constitutional order must involve the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya,” he said Thursday in an interview with radio program Nuestra Voz.

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