OAS tells Honduras it can't drop out, but weighs kicking it out

WASHINGTON — The new government in Honduras may want to wash its hands of the Organization of American States, but the OAS says no, not that way — if there's to be any severing of ties, it'll be the OAS that does it.

Honduras' new government announced plans late Friday to withdraw from the diplomatic union following a visit from the organization's secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza, who attempted to broker a deal for the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

But the OAS — meeting Saturday evening in Washington to consider suspending the country's membership — says that the government of Honduras isn't legitimate and therefore can't withdraw from the group.

OAS assistant secretary-general, Albert Ramdin, told reporters that the OAS doesn't recognize the government that ousted Zelaya from office last Sunday and that "only a legitimate government'' can decide to withdraw from the OAS.

Zelaya was expected to attend the meeting Saturday evening and may speak there. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner may also attend. She has said that she will accompany Zelaya, who has said he would return to Honduras on Sunday. The government there has said he would be arrested if he shows up.

The OAS vowed earlier in the week to suspend Honduras' membership if the exiled leader was not allowed to return to his elected position. The impoverished nation would be only the second country to be exiled from the group. Cuba was ousted in 1962 after Fidel Castro rose to power, but the OAS voted last month to lift the suspension and let Cuba back in.

The government in Havana has said it has no interest in doing so.

The left-leaning Zelaya was ousted in a predawn raid at his home last Sunday after he vowed to defy a court ruling that a nonbinding referendum to be held that day was illegal. Zelaya wanted the referendum to approve expanding his tenure in the presidency.

He had clashed with the attorney general, the Supreme Court, Congress and the military he commanded. But instead of being taken to court to stand trial for abuse of power and treason, the military swept him out of bed at gunpoint and forced him into exile.

The United States has criticized the coup but is deferring to the OAS to take the lead in trying to resolve the crisis.

A top church leader called on ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to reconsider his return, and to recall three of the Ten Commandments.

Local channels interrupted their regular programming to air a statement by Tegucigalpa's Archbishop Oscar Andris Rodriguez Saturday morning, who addressed viewers in frontof a Honduran flag and a painting of Jesus Christ.

"On the day of your inauguration you cited three commandments of the rules of God … not to lie, not to steal, not to kill," Rodriguez said. "If you respect life, if you love life ... please meditate because if not it could be too late."

Rodriguez used the roughly 10 minutes of air time to call for unity among the Honduran people. In the days following Zelaya's military-sanctioned removal, Hondurans have charged to the streets of Tegucigalpa and other cities in mass rallies and marches either supporting or denouncing Zelaya.

(Miami Herald correspondent Laura Figueroa contributed to this report from Tegucigalpa.)


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