As Honduras digs in, isolation deepens

The chief of the Organization of American States found little receptivity as he arrived Friday to push for the ousted president's return. Protesters on both sides took to the streets.

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS – Honduras remained steadfast against restoring ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power Friday, hinting at both increasing isolation for the Central American nation and a domestic crisis that could last far longer than anticipated.

Jose Miguel Insulza, head of the Organization of American States, arrived in Honduras Friday ahead of a deadline the regional body had set for the country to accept Mr. Zelaya back as president of the nation. But the Honduras Supreme Court rebuffed the plea.

"Insulza asked Honduras to reinstate Zelaya, but the president of the court categorically answered that there is an arrest warrant for him," said court spokesman Danilo Izaguirre.

In a public sign of the growing conflict, two mass protests took over the streets of the capital on Friday. Supporters of the military ouster, dressed in white shirts with flags of Honduras draped around their shoulders, marched to the presidential palace.

“We were about to be a broken society,” says Jesus Simon, an engineer, referring to the attempt of Zelaya to call for a nonbinding referendum for a constitutional reform, despite the fact that the Supreme Court called it illegal. “The tower of democracy was about to fall.”

Mr. Simon says the world misunderstands what was at stake, a sentiment shared by many, with banners reading, “World, open your eyes” and “CNN, publish the truth.”

“If we are isolated, fine, we will be like Cuba. But at least we will be isolated under democracy,” Mr. Simon says.

Armed police formed a human shield across a main street to keep the two protests from clashing. Just yards away, thousands of marchers adorned their shirts and hats with bumper stickers reading, “No to coups.”

“They say this was no coup because the military is not ruling, but it was a coup – just a modern-day one,” says Vanesa Moya, a radio journalist marching toward the OAS. “It is unjust what they did to our president.”

Many had hoped that the Insulza visit today would bring some type of compromise. Mr. Insulza met with Jorge Rivera, who presides over the Supreme Court. Insulza had said he would meet with the institutions that authorized the military ouster, but would not meet with the government so as not to legitimate it.

Insulza made no comments after his Supreme Court meeting, but had earlier warned that Honduras will be suspended from the OAS if Zelaya is not in power by Saturday. Honduras already faces economic sanctions from neighboring countries, the withholding of aid from world bodies, and condemnation from Europe and beyond.

The court spokesman, Mr. Izaguirre, said the OAS now must “decide what it will do.” The OAS has called an emergency meeting for Saturday.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in hours after Zelaya was arrested in his home and sent to Costa Rica, seemed to soften his stance ahead of the OAS meeting, telling reporters that he would agree to early elections to solve the crisis. But during the march Friday, he showed little sign of backing down.

“I am the president of all Hondurans," he roared to the crowd. "They said we were afraid, but here is the proof that the people are not afraid," Micheletti said. "We are asking Hondurans to communicate with their relatives throughout the world to tell them that no coup took place here.”

Zelaya, who is traveling in Central America, said he planned to return to Honduras Sunday.

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