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Honduran Rivals Agree to Mediation Talks


The deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has accepted an invitation by Costa Rican President and Nobel laureate Oscar Arias to mediate the crisis in Honduras. The announcement came after Mr. Zelaya met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in Washington. The interim government in Honduras has also agreed to participate in the talks. The news came on a day when both sides held large demonstrations.

Chanting "Out with Zelaya," thousands of demonstrators packed the main plaza in downtown Tegucigalpa to support the interim govern headed by Roberto Micheletti. Many of the signs carried by people in the crowd accused the deposed president of being a criminal because of his actions that the country's supreme court ruled were unconstitutional. Other signs linked Mr. Zelaya with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In another part of the city, a large crowd of Zelaya supporters gathered to demand his return and to condemn what they regard as an illegitimate government that came to power by force. Their demonstration turned quiet, however, when a local radio station began broadcasting a telephone interview with Mr. Zelaya in which he said he had agreed to participate in talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

Mr. Zelaya expressed confidence in President Arias and said he hoped the interim government would take measures to guarantee peace in the country. Mr. Zelaya said the first meeting with President Arias and representatives of the interim government would take place on Thursday in Costa Rica.

President Arias accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the armed conflicts that raged in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s.

His main effort was directed at negotiating an end to the conflict between the leftist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the U.S.-backed Contras, who were based in Honduras.

Initial reaction to the Arias-mediated talks has been positive here in Honduras, where many people not involved politically are waiting on the sidelines, hoping for a swift resolution of the crisis that began on June 28 when soldiers forced President Zelaya to leave the country. The action was quickly condemned by governments around the world as a coup d'etat and led the Organization of American States to suspend Honduras from its membership.

But those who support the Honduran interim government contend that the Mr. Zelaya's removal was not a coup, but a proper legal action to remove a lawbreaker from power. Under the Honduran constitution, they contend President Zelaya was guilty of several crimes including an attempt to change the law prohibiting a second term so that he could remain in office.

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