Honduran Congress rejects symbolic return of Manuel Zelaya

In a vote Wednesday, the Honduran Congress effectively extended the political crisis by denying Manuel Zelaya the opportunity to finish the last few weeks of his presidential term.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Jose Saavedra (L) President of the National Congress, Congressmen Victor Sabillon (C) and Marcia Villeda sing the national anthem after voting against the reinstatement of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya inside National Congress in Tegucigalpa
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Honduras's Congress rejected the return of President Manuel Zelaya, polarizing residents in the country who disagree on whether the move ends – or prolongs indefinitely – the political crisis in the Honduran nation.

"Things are finally ending," says Luis Espinal, a technician in Tegucigalpa, who says keeping Mr. Zelaya out of the presidency means the country can start to look past the crisis.

But Ada Ojullo, a nurse, says this means that coup leaders have won the struggle for political control and hurt the country's standing. "I don't know if the political crisis will ever end," she says.

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The Honduran Congress was voting on whether Zelaya – who was ousted from office June 28 by the military for pushing plans to hold a vote to consider a constituent assembly – could be temporarily reinstated to office. His foes, like Mr. Espinal, feared Zelaya was attempting to drop term limits for presidents to prolong his rule, as has his ally Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Zelaya denies the charge.

The Honduran congressional vote was part of a US-sponsored plan to bring an end to the crisis. Zelaya, who is still holed up in the Brazilian embassy, and Roberto Micheletti, the interim president, both agreed to these terms – in exchange for the US recognizing the presidential election held last Sunday.

A majority of Congressmen agreed Wednesday to reject Zelaya's return to serve out the last few weeks of his presidential term.

Many Hondurans had hoped that elections would bring an end to a crisis, in which nations suspended international aid. While the US has said it will recognize the elections, in which opposition conservative candidate Porfirio Lobo won the race, most nations in Latin America say they refuse to budge.

The rejection of Zelaya's temporary return by the Honduran Congress is likely to harden international positions.

After the vote, Zelaya vowed to continue fighting against his ouster. "I call on the people to keep fighting the dictatorship," Zelaya said on local Radio Globo Tuesday evening.

It is still unclear what his next step will be. He snuck back into Honduras and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Both sides had rejected amnesty, and authorities have promised that Zelaya will be arrested should he step outside.

His supporters say this is the real blow was against the constitution – not Zelaya's attempt to hold a constituent assembly. Arturo Herrera, a school teacher, says voters elected Zelaya to serve out his term, which would have ended in January. The vote by Congress Wednesday "didn't solve anything," he says.

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