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New Honduran Government Defies OAS Ultimatum

The interim Honduran president has rejected an ultimatum from American governments to reinstate ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. The ongoing political crisis has sparked new protests.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti is facing new foreign pressure to allow the return of President Manuel Zelaya, who was forced to leave the country on Sunday.

The United States, United Nations and many Latin American nations have refused to acknowledge the government that took control from Mr. Zelaya, who has been accused of criminal charges. The Organization of American States (O.A.S.) went a step further Wednesday and said Honduras has 72 hours to reinstate Mr. Zelaya or the regional group may suspend the nation's membership.

In Tegucigalpa, Mr. Micheletti said his government will not bow to outside pressure, and that he is not fazed by the overwhelming negative reaction from foreign governments.

The interim leader said he is confident that Honduras will not be isolated for long, and that other countries will begin to understand how the new government has saved the country. He added that God is with the new government to help it resolve the crisis.

He said officials from the new government were beginning to reach out to Washington and other foreign partners to offer details on why Mr. Zelaya was removed from power. Officials have announced a criminal investigation into the ousted leader, who is accused of 18 offenses including treason and abuse of power.

Still, pressure is mounting on the interim government, as Spain and France recalled their ambassadors to Honduras. In Washington, the Pentagon said it was suspending military activities while officials reassess the situation. U.S. military forces operate a security and counter-drug operation from the Soto Cano airbase outside the Honduran capital.

Meantime, the president of the Honduran Commission for Human Rights offered a proposal aimed at easing the political crisis between the interim government and foreign allies. Ramon Custodio said election officials should consider holding a referendum on whether to allow Mr. Zelaya to return to power or not.

Custodio said the vote would offer a response to the international community, and show that only the Honduran people can decide the country's future.

The announcement marked a shift from the human rights chief, who has said officials acted properly in removing Mr. Zelaya and that the interim government has full authority. Custodio says he has received scores of threats for his actions, but says he will not be intimidated.

Supporters of the interim government held a large rally in the southern city of Choluteca on Wednesday, and smaller rallies took place in the capital. Also, some medical workers and school employees walked off their jobs after labor unions called for a strike until Mr. Zelaya is returned to power. Many schools have been closed since the coup, but businesses in the capital continue to operate