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Interim Honduras leader rejects return of Zelaya

Roberto Micheletti said ousted President Manuel Zelaya would be jailed if he came back to Honduras. He also accused the US Ambassador Hugo Llorens of tilting unfairly in favor of Zelaya.

By Tyler BridgesMcClatchy Newspapers / August 18, 2009

Honduras' interim President Roberto Micheletti delivers a speech during an event with reservists in support of Honduras' interim government in Tegucigalpa, Aug. 8.

Arnulfo Franco/AP/FILE

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Honduras's interim president told McClatchy on Monday that he won't agree to any proposal to resolve his country's political crisis that would allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to power.

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Roberto Micheletti, who was named interim president after the military bundled Zelaya onto an airplane June 28 and sent him to Costa Rica, said that Mr. Zelaya would be jailed and tried on 18 charges of violating the constitution if he returned.

"The only way President Zelaya can return is if he submits himself to the justice system," Mr. Micheletti said.

In an exclusive 40-minute interview, Micheletti also accused the US ambassador here, Hugo Llorens, of tilting unfairly in favor of Zelaya during the crisis, rejected accusations that his government has abused human rights in putting down protests and said that he doesn't expect the Obama administration to slap tough economic sanctions on Honduras.

Micheletti's comments confirmed analysts' assertions that he plans to withstand international pressure to allow Zelaya's return under a plan being negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. In doing so, his government and its supporters in the business community think they can ride out possible economic sanctions and a refusal by foreign governments to recognize the winners of the presidential and congressional elections Nov. 29.

Micheletti said that Zelaya couldn't be trusted because, Micheletti charged, he'd violated the constitution by attempting to hold a referendum with the aim of rewriting the constitution so that he could run for re-election. Under Arias' proposal, Zelaya would agree not to push for a change in re-election law in return for Micheletti's allowing him to return to office.

"He'd never keep his word," Micheletti said. "I know him. I helped him become president. He was a democrat. But he became a leftist with a plan to follow Ecuador and Venezuela. He wanted to become a dictator and emulate [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez."

What Zelaya hoped to gain from the referendum is a point of contention in Honduras. The proposed referendum question didn't mention the issue of re-election and asked only whether voters should decide Nov. 29 whether to call for a constituent assembly. Zelaya and his supporters claim that the referendum was nonbinding and that any change would have taken place after Zelaya had left office.

However, Micheletti said he believed that Zelaya intended to try to force a rewrite of the constitution before the election in an effort to remain in power. Chávez successfully pressed Venezuelan voters to allow him to run for re-election after they initially defeated such a measure.

Interviewed at his home on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Micheletti, a 66-year-old father of nine, was relaxed, a marked difference from when he met with foreign reporters shortly after the coup and refused to answer some questions and bristled at others.

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