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Honduras restricts liberties to prevent rebellion

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[September 28, 2009]  TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- Interim government leaders have suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in a pre-emptive strike against widespread rebellion Monday, three months to the day since they ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a military-backed coup.

Zelaya supporters said they would ignore the decree issued late Sunday and march in the streets as planned. Some already had arrived in the capital, Tegucigalpa, from outlying provinces.

The measures -- announced just hours after Zelaya called on his backers to stage mass protest marches in what he called a "final offensive" against the government -- are likely to draw harsh criticism from the international community, which has condemned the June 28 coup and urged that Zelaya be reinstated to the presidency and allowed to serve out his term, which ends in January.

Officials also issued an ultimatum to Brazil on Sunday, giving the South American country 10 days to decide whether to turn Zelaya over for arrest or grant him asylum and, presumably, take him out of Honduras. They did not specify what they would do after the 10 days were up.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded, saying that his government "doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters."

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has pledged not to raid the Brazilian Embassy building where Zelaya has been holed up with more than 60 supporters since he sneaked back into the country a week ago. The building is surrounded by armed police and soldiers. On Tuesday, the day after Zelaya's return, baton-wielding troops used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands of his supporters.

Protesters say at least 10 people have been killed since the coup, while the government puts the toll at three.

Interim Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez has said that, because Brazil has broken off diplomatic relations with the interim government, it would have to remove the Brazilian flag and shield from the Embassy "and it (the building) becomes a private office."

The government's suspension of civil liberties violates rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution: The decree prohibits unauthorized gatherings and allows police to arrest without a warrant "any person who poses a danger to his own life or those of others."

The Honduran Constitution forbids arrests without warrants except when a criminal is caught in the act.

The government measures also permit authorities to temporarily close news media outlets that "attack peace and public order."

In a nationally broadcast announcement, the government explained it took the steps it did "to guarantee peace and public order in the country and due to the calls for insurrection that Mr. Zelaya has publicly made."

There was no immediate reaction from Zelaya, who is demanding to be reinstated and has said that Micheletti's government "has to fall."

Zelaya's supporters pledged to ignore the restrictions and forge ahead with their scheduled demonstrations.

"The protest is on," said pro-Zelaya leader Juan Barahona. "Tomorrow we will be in the streets."

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The media restrictions appear aimed at pro-Zelaya radio and television stations that -- while subject to brief raids immediately after the coup -- had been allowed to operate freely, openly criticizing the interim government and broadcasting Zelaya's statements.

Under Sunday's order, authorities may now "prevent the transmission by any spoken, written or televised means, of statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law."

The decree states that the country's national telecommunications commission, known as Conatel, is authorized "through police and the armed forces ... to immediately suspend any radio station, cable or television network whose programming does not comply with these regulations."

Pro-Zelaya television station Channel 36 warned earlier Sunday that restrictions on the news media were coming and said they were part of a pattern by the interim government of quashing constitutional rights.

Micheletti's administration had previously bragged about the democratic atmosphere in the country, citing media outlets such as Channel 36 as proof. The station continued broadcasting without interruption Sunday night.


Talks between Zelaya and interim government officials aimed at resolving the political standoff have gotten nowhere. Prospects for success appeared even grimmer after the government expelled at least four members of an advance team from the Organization of American States who had arrived Sunday to re-establish negotiations.

Micheletti has previously said the OAS was welcome to come, but suggested that representatives begin arriving Monday. Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said that the team's arrival didn't come "at the right time ... because we are in the middle of internal conversations."

In addition, while many nations have announced they would send diplomatic representatives back to Honduras to support negotiations, the interim government said Sunday that it would not automatically accept ambassadors back from some nations that withdrew their envoys.

[Associated Press; By MARK STEVENSON]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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