TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- An international plan to return deposed President Manuel Zelaya to power suddenly gained new life Friday after de facto President Roberto Micheletti reversed course and moved close to accepting the deal, the chief intermediary between the two sides said.
"I think both are willing to solve this without violence," John Biehl, a diplomat representing the Organization for American States, told McClatchy. "Things are looking very good, completely different than before."
Biehl has been echoing the warnings of others that failure to end the three-month-old power struggle could unleash a wave of bloodshed and doom the Nov. 29 presidential elections that are seen as key to returning politics to normal.
In a sign of the improving climate, OAS General Secretary Jose Miguel Insulza confirmed plans to come to Honduras on Wednesday along with 10 regional foreign ministers.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias put forth the international plan. It would have Micheletti step aside so that Zelaya could move from the Brazilian Embassy, where he's been sleeping on an inflatable mattress since holing up there on Sept. 21, back to the Presidential House.
Government troops have trapped Zelaya inside, blocking anyone other than authorized visitors from coming within two blocks of the embassy.
To be sure, plenty of factors could derail the deal.
Conservative businessmen and civic leaders met privately with Micheletti on Thursday and reiterated their opposition to Zelaya's return, said Adolfo Facusse, a leading businessman who attended the meeting and has proposed a plan restoring the deposed president to power.
Facusse said that virtually everyone there other than him voiced support for Micheletti's suspension of civil rights on Sunday and his closure of a radio station and a TV station allied with Zelaya. The emergency decree remained in effect on Friday, despite Micheletti's promises to rescind it, and the stations remain without a signal in Honduras.
Any final agreement would require Zelaya and Micheletti to put aside their vitriolic personal attacks. The government television channel, for example, has been repeatedly broadcasting quasi-news reports calling Zelaya a liar.
Zelaya made the first move toward breaking the stalemate when he gave Biehl a letter for Insulza endorsing the Arias Plan.
Zelaya and his aides accepted language that would have him lead a unity government and would tie his hands on some key matters.
An international team — including former Central American presidents — would be formed to ensure that Zelaya keeps his word, in an attempt to address the concern of Micheletti and his supporters that the deposed president cannot be trusted.
Micheletti has been resisting increased international pressure to accept the Arias Plan. Nearly all foreign governments have condemned him for leading a government that took office through a coup, albeit one led by civilians and with a bipartisan ministerial team.
The United States, the 800-pound gorilla in Honduras because of the two countries' long-time political and economic links, has been steadily ratcheting up pressure on Micheletti because of concern that how he took power sets a bad precedent in a region with an ugly history of coups.
The Obama administration has cut foreign assistance and begun withdrawing coveted U.S. visas held by Micheletti and powerful politicians and businessmen.
Some businessmen who supported the coup have now agreed to Zelaya's return, after their visas were taken away, with the economy suffering from tourists canceling their trips and the government having imposed a nightly curfew, now lifted.
The leading candidates for president have added to the pressure on Micheletti.
Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, the National Party candidate, wants to end the crisis because he has a 10 to 15-point lead in polls and doesn't want violence to wreck the elections or, if they are held, to be elected without international legitimacy.
Elvin Santos, the Liberal Party candidate, wants to end the crisis because that's the only way he can unify his party — both Zelaya and Micheletti are Liberals — and try to catch up.
"Elections are the solution to the problem," Lobo said Friday.
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