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Honduras' de facto president says he'll restore civil liberties

20090929 HONDURAS

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Facing condemnation abroad and criticism at home, interim President Roberto Micheletti reversed course Tuesday and said he'd withdraw a controversial measure that's suspended civil liberties in Honduras.

Micheletti's government also backtracked on another key issue by inviting a group of foreign ministers to Honduras next week, two days after his government barred four foreign diplomats from the Organization of American States.

The diplomats compose part of the international effort to pressure the Micheletti government into allowing the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who remains holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras.

Micheletti's latest moves provided oxygen to the effort to resolve the three-month-old political crisis through negotiations. The moves also reflect the de facto government's attempt to break free of its isolation after issuing the decree suspending liberties, which led troops on Monday to close a TV station and a radio station allied with Zelaya.

The stations remained shut down Tuesday, and troops continued to bottle up a group of protesters in front of the National Teachers University.

U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, in a radio interview, called for the decree's immediate repeal.

A powerful businessman offered a plan that could serve as the basis for negotiations. Drafted by Adolfo Facusse, who heads the National Association of Industries, it builds on the San Jose Accord offered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

Facusse's plan would allow Zelaya to serve out the remaining time in his term in exchange for strict limits on his power and the acceptance of international peacekeeping troops in Honduras.

These provisions would attempt to reassure Micheletti supporters, who think that the erratic Zelaya can't be trusted to keep his word.

The plan would give amnesty to everyone involved in the events surrounding the June 28 deposition of Zelaya. Zelaya is accused of violating the constitution by trying to hold a public plebiscite June 28, while senior military leaders could face charges for sending him out of the country at gunpoint.

The plan also would require Zelaya to agree to being tried on corruption charges once his term ended Jan. 27.

Facusse expressed no love lost for Zelaya but said putting him back in the Presidential House provided the only path to resolve the country's crisis.

"We set the wheels moving again, although we don't know how far they'll take us," Facusse said of his plan.

He said Micheletti welcomed the plan when they discussed it two weeks ago.

Juan Jose Pineda, Tegucigalpa's auxiliary bishop, who's serving as an emissary between Micheletti and Zelaya, also said the talks were yielding some gains.

"Both sides have told me things in confidence that make me optimistic," Pineda said in an interview.

In another hopeful sign, Micheletti and Arias — who've criticized each other long distance — spoke by telephone Monday night.

During a speech Tuesday in Miami, Arias praised Micheletti for promising to revoke the emergency decree in the coming days but complained that Micheletti's government "has not moved an inch" in negotiations.

Micheletti backed away from the crackdown after congressional leaders told him that the hard-line measures threatened to undermine the behind-the-scenes negotiations and the Nov. 29 presidential election, Congressman Antonio Rivera said.

"We want elections," Rivera said. "We need elections."

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