Honduras’ de facto leader lifts emergency decree

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – De facto Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti lifted an emergency decree yesterday that had suspended some civil liberties and shut two media outlets loyal to ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

The move followed strong international criticism of the curbs on freedoms and could help talks this week with foreign ministers from the Organization of American States to try and resolve the three-month-old political crisis.

“It is completely overturned,” Micheletti told a news conference of the decree, imposed in late September.

The curbs on freedoms will end once the mandate is published in the country’s official journal in the coming days, meaning public protests are still banned for now and the two shuttered Honduran media outlets remain closed.

The standoff since Zelaya was toppled and forced into exile on June 28 is Central America’s worst crisis in years and has become a test for US President Barack Obama after he promised a new era of engagement with Latin America.

Although their key demands remain unchanged, both Zelaya and Micheletti say they are ready for talks. Zelaya wants to be unconditionally reinstated, while Micheletti says he must face the courts and is resisting pressure to restore him to power.

Analysts saw yesterday’s move as a positive step.

“There is a change in Micheletti due to the pressure on him. Lifting the decree was a concession. At least it’s an advance in this crisis,” said Efrain Diaz of the nongovernmental Center for Human Development.

Zelaya said that lifting the emergency decree — which allowed the caretaker leadership to ban public protests and suspend freedoms of speech, association and movement — was essential if talks were to take place between the two sides.

“I have faith that this problem … is going to be resolved in the coming days,” he told the Telesur TV channel.

Tensions flared after Zelaya slipped back into the country two weeks ago and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa with his wife and scores of followers.

Micheletti’s emergency decree shuttered a pro-Zelaya television channel and a radio station that resorted to broadcasting via the Internet from a bedroom in a safe house.

Troops and police in riot gear have ringed the Brazilian mission in recent days to curb pro-Zelaya protests.

Talks this week will likely center on the San Jose agreement drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias when he mediated earlier in the crisis. The document calls for Zelaya’s reinstatement, a form of political amnesty and a unity government until the scheduled Nov. 29 elections.

Zelaya, whose term would have ended in January, pushed for endorsement of the San Jose agreement and said he should be allowed to freely receive visitors for talks.

Zelaya’s ouster came after he riled powerful conservatives by allying himself with Socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and fueling fears he wanted to amend the constitution to extend his hold on power. The Supreme Court ordered his arrest in June.

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