- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | Deposed President Manuel Zelaya made a dramatic return to Honduras’ capital on Monday, taking shelter from arrest at the Brazilian Embassy and calling for negotiations with the leaders who forced him from the country at gunpoint.

The interim government ordered a 15-hour curfew, but thousands of Zelaya supporters ignored the decreed 4 p.m. shutdown and remained outside the embassy, dancing and cheering.

Others in the capital started rushing home, lining up at bus stands and frantically looking for taxis.

The leftist leader’s homecoming creates a sharp new challenge for the interim government, which has threatened repeatedly to throw him in jail if he returns.

Chants of “Yes, we could! Yes, we could!” bellowed from the crowd.

Mr. Zelaya told the Associated Press that he was trying to establish contact with the interim government to start negotiations on a solution to the standoff that started when soldiers who flew him out of the country June 28.

“As of now, we are beginning to seek dialogue,” he said by telephone, though he gave few details. Talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have been stalled for weeks over the interim government’s refusal to accept Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement.

He also summoned his countrymen to come to the capital for peaceful protests and urged the army to avoid attacking his supporters. “It is the moment of reconciliation,” he said.

Security Vice Minister Mario Perdomo said checkpoints were being set up on highways leading to the capital to keep out Mr. Zelaya’s supporters from other regions, to “stop those people coming to start trouble.”

The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, who took power after Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, said the curfew would continue to 6 p.m. Tuesday, owing to “the events of the last few hours.” Mr. Micheletti, who has promised to step aside following scheduled presidential elections in November, made no other comment on Mr. Zelaya’s return.

The interim government was caught off-guard by Mr. Zelaya’s appearance. Only minutes before he appeared publicly at the embassy, officials said reports of his return were a lie.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged both sides to look for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

“It is imperative that dialogue begin, that there be a channel of communication between President Zelaya and the de facto regime in Honduras,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said neither his country nor the Organization of American States had any role in Mr. Zelaya’s journey before taking him in.

“We hope this opens a new stage in negotiations,” Mr. Amorin said. He also warned: “If something happens to Zelaya or our embassy, it would be a violation of international law,” which bars host countries from arresting people inside diplomatic missions.

c AP writers Catherine E. Shoichet, Martha Mendoza, Alexandra Olson, Matthew Lee and Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.

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