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Interim Honduras president apologizes for crackdown

Alex Renderos And Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Faced with a barrage of criticism abroad and from allies at home, the interim president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, appeared to retreat Monday from his decision to suspend crucial civil liberties.

Micheletti said he would consult with the Supreme Court and other institutions and hoped to repeal the decree “at the most opportune moment.” He apologized to the Honduran people but again blamed President Manuel Zelaya, the man he ousted in a coup in June, for making drastic measures necessary.

The emergency decree, invoked Sunday, bans public gatherings, restricts the news media and makes it easier for the military to arrest people.

Micheletti’s apparent and abrupt reversal follows unusually pointed criticism from some of his allies and fellow coup-backers, including powerful businessmen and politicians. Some even have begun to speak of allowing Zelaya to be reinstated, an idea that has been taboo until now.

Micheletti’s former colleagues in Congress, over whom he presided until they installed him as president as part of the coup, warned him of widespread opposition to the suspension of civil rights.

“We’ve asked him respectfully to analyze the possibility of leaving decree to one side, as a way to encourage dialogue among the sectors,” congressional president Jose Angel Saavedra said.

The Honduran business elite have become particularly concerned that the country’s isolation is damaging the economy and will imperil elections scheduled for November. The U.S. and other countries have cut off some aid and said they will not recognize the election results unless the crisis is resolved.

The de facto government invoked the emergency decree after accusing Zelaya of inciting violence from his refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. If not rescinded, it would suspend civil liberties for 45 days.

Governments including the United States, Chile and France condemned the moves, as did the Organization of American States, Human Rights Watch and the leading candidate for president in Honduras.

“We are very concerned by the de facto regime’s suspension of fundamental liberties,” said Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman in Washington. “We call on the de facto regime to lift the decree and take the necessary steps to initiate a meaningful negotiation with President Zelaya.”

The restrictions then would be lifted just 10 days before the scheduled presidential elections. Leading candidates said this would be disastrous for their campaigns.

Before Micheletti announced he would reconsider the decree, his government silenced two opposition news broadcasters, appearing bent on clamping down on Zelaya’s backers.

The two targeted stations frequently carry interviews with Zelaya and his supporters – voices given short shrift in most other Honduran media. Channel 36 television was yanked from the air late Sunday. And soldiers and police launched a predawn raid Monday on Radio Globo, a national broadcaster sympathetic to Zelaya.

Micheletti’s government accused the stations of inciting rebellion on Zelaya’s behalf.

McClatchy new service contributed to this report.
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