TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – The de facto government of Honduras denied entry yesterday to an Organization of American States delegation as tensions mounted with Brazil, which has given refuge to ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The group of OAS officials had hoped to help broker a solution to Honduras’ political crisis but was turned back at Tegucigalpa’s international airport, a move likely to further isolate the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti.
Hours earlier, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would ignore a 10-day deadline set by Micheletti to decide what to do with Zelaya, who is holed up in Brazil’s embassy in Honduras.
“Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup mongers,” Lula told reporters at a summit of African and South American leaders in Venezuela.
Lula also demanded an apology from Micheletti, who issued a harsh statement late on Saturday warning that his government would be forced to take action if Brazil does not define Zelaya’s status soon.
Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup on June 28, but on Monday he returned from exile, sparking a tense standoff with the de facto civilian government that has promised to arrest him on charges of treason.
Brazil had said Zelaya can stay as long as necessary, but Micheletti told the South American heavyweight to either grant the deposed leftist political asylum or hand him over to Honduran authorities to be prosecuted.
“We urge the Brazilian government to define the status of Mr. Zelaya in a period of no more than 10 days,” the de facto government said in a statement. “If not, we will be obliged to take additional measures.”
It did not say what those measures might be, but said Brazil must guarantee its diplomatic mission is not used by Zelaya to “incite violence.”
Since Monday, hundreds of soldiers and riot police have surrounded the embassy where protesters have mounted almost daily marches to demand Zelaya be reinstated.
“If they enter by force, they will be committing an act that contravenes all international norms,” Lula said of the security forces outside the building.
Zelaya urges ‘final
Zelaya, a logging magnate who is rarely without his trademark cowboy hat, urged his followers to descend on the capital to pressure for his return.
“I call on you to mobilize throughout Honduras, and that everyone who can come to Tegucigalpa to fight in the final offensive,” he said in a statement on local Radio Globo.
The United Nations Secu-rity Council on Friday condemned harassment of the Brazilian embassy. Brazilian officials say food and supplies have only occasionally been allowed in and troops have blasted the building with high-frequency sounds.
Zelaya upset conservative elites by allying himself with Venezuela’s socialist Presi-dent Hugo Chavez. He demands to be restored to power, but the de facto government says presidential elections in November will resolve the crisis.
The showdown in Hon-duras is shaping up as U.S. President Barack Obama’s first diplomatic test in Latin America, a region where Washington’s influence has waned in recent years.
Obama has cut some U.S. aid to Honduras since the coup and pushed for Zelaya’s return, but several Latin American leaders say he has not done enough to broker a solution.
Brazil, which has sought to assert itself as a regional leader under Lula, has backed Zelaya from the outset but was reluctant to take a leading role in a crisis outside its traditional sphere of influence in South America.