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U.S. prepared to back Brazil in Honduran crisis

September 18, 2009

Planes in Honduras have been grounded and the de facto government is extending curfews, hoping to stem violent outbreaks following the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Meanwhile, Roberto Micheletti, the former congressional president who assumed the presidency in Zelaya´s absence, encouraged Hondurans to remain strong and “not to lower their guard,” according to a Tuesday article in the Honduran daily La Prensa. He also said he won´t chase down Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

The deposed president, who was marched out of his home at gunpoint on June 28, arrived at Brazil´s embassy on Monday and has been broadcasting messages to his supporters from a Venezuelan television station.

Thousands of Zelaya supporters, who gathered outside the embassy to cheer on the ousted leader, clashed with police who, according to Human Rights Watch, used “excessive force” while attempting to disperse the crowd.

Concerned for the safety of embassy officials, the Brazilian government has asked the United States for protection if necessary, something the northern superpower seems willing to give.

“I am sure we will provide assistance, but we are in the midst of discussions on how to do so,” said Ian Kelly, White House spokesman, in a press conference on Tuesday. “It´s a very sensitive situation and we don´t want to get into the details (of what actions we will take) … but we are willing to offer our help.”

The U.S. Embassy, which was closed Tuesday for reasons relating to the uncertain political situation, posted a message on its Web site that a decision to reopen “will be taken during the course of the day.” Meanwhile, the embassy urged U.S. citizens living in Honduras to register with the embassy. (The U.S. State Department will be post the latest security information on its Web site).

French residents living in Honduras were warned to “stay in and not to move until further notice” in a message appearing on the French Embassy´s Web site on Tuesday.

“This is a situation that could play out in many different ways,” said Luis Guillermo Solís, political analyst and former professor at the University of Costa Rica. “But it´s a good opportunity for the parties to reshape the negotiations, as the situation has caused both sides to become seemingly radicalized.”

With the international community (except Panama) unwilling to recognize the November elections and Micheletti consequently turning his back on the lead mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the situation was becoming increasingly tense daily. But Zelaya may have opened a window of opportunity, Solís said.

“It would be a shame if a four-month crisis turned into a four-year problem,” he told The Tico Times. “One would have hoped that the elections would be a way out of the crisis, but that is not possible if there is no agreement (between the Honduran government and the outside world).

“If there´s no agreement, there´s no guarantee that the elections in November would be fair and transparent,” Solís added.

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