- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | The head of the Organization of American States flew to Honduras on Friday to give the coup-backed government a firm ultimatum to restore toppled President Manuel Zelaya within 24 hours or face crippling sanctions.

The head of the interim government rallied thousands of supporters in front of the national palace and pledged to stand firm in the face of the international pressure.

“I am the president of all Hondurans,” Roberto Micheletti proclaimed.

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza was meeting with leaders of Honduras’ Supreme Court and Congress — institutions that had approved Sunday’s coup — to press his demands. After a two-hour meeting, Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera rebuffed the appeal, a court spokesman said.

The demand is that Mr. Zelaya be restored as president unconditionally, or Honduras will be suspended from the OAS on Saturday. Mr. Insulza conceded that his mission was unlikely to succeed: “It will be very hard to turn things around in a couple of days,” he said before setting out.

Mr. Micheletti displayed little indication of ceding to the OAS’ demands. He led a raucous chant of “Democracy!” before a giant crowd waving blue-and-white Honduran flags in front of the palace that Mr. Micheletti has occupied since Mr. Zelaya was seized by soldiers and flown into exile.

“They said we were afraid, but here is the proof that the people are not afraid,” Mr. Micheletti shouted. “We are asking Hondurans to communicate with their relatives throughout the world to tell them that no coup took place here.”

A rival rally by thousands of Zelaya backers marched to the offices of the OAS. Marchers carried a banner with a picture of Mr. Zelaya and the words: “The people are with you!”

Despite feared violence, the two groups did not clash. Police helicopters circled overhead and dozens of soldiers and police guarded the palace.

Mr. Micheletti’s foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, who was designated to meet with visiting OAS officials, said Friday that Mr. Insulza “can negotiate all he wants, except for Zelaya’s situation.”

“That is not negotiable because he cannot return to Honduras, and if he does he will be arrested and tried,” Mr. Ortez said.

Mr. Insulza said he would not meet with members of Mr. Micheletti’s government to avoid legitimizing it.

Mr. Zelaya was in El Salvador on Friday for a meeting with President Mauricio Funes. He then flew to an unidentified country. He has said he would return home over the weekend, and Mr. Micheletti has vowed to arrest him if he does.

Mr. Micheletti’s supporters say the army was justified in ousting Mr. Zelaya — on orders of Congress and the Supreme Court — because he had called a referendum that they claim he intended to use to extend his rule. Mr. Zelaya denies it and has said he will no longer press for constitutional changes.

Mr. Micheletti, who faces almost complete international isolation over his refusal to restore Mr. Zelaya, instead offered to move up presidential elections, scheduled for Nov. 29.

Mr. Micheletti asked Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu to help mediate the conflict, and she arrived in Tegucigalpa on Friday. “I come to try to talk with anyone who wants to listen to search for peace for this country,” she said.

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