Honduras: Zelaya Issues Ultimatum: 'Reinstate Me Or Else'

08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Tuesday that the Honduran people "have the right to insurrection" against the interim government that forced him out of the country.

The remarks appeared to pave the way for a further escalation of the conflict in Honduras, where Zelaya's supporters have staged massive marches demanding his return and one person has already been killed in clashes between demonstrators and soldiers.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his left-leaning counterpart Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom in Guatemala City, Zelaya said that Hondurans have the right demonstrate, strike and even rise up against the government of Roberto Micheletti, who was named by Congress to replace Zelaya.

"Nobody owes allegiance to a usurper government that took power by arms, and the people have the right to insurrection and to oppose those measures," Zelaya said, adding, "Insurrection is a legitimate process that forms part of the highest concepts of democratic sentiment."

Zelaya was toppled by a military-backed coup June 28 and flown out of the country. He is recognized by virtually all foreign governments, but Micheletti has threatened to have him jailed if he returns.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is mediating talks aimed at resolving the impasse, but Zelaya has grown frustrated by the lack of progress and on Monday gave the interim government an ultimatum to reinstate him.

On Tuesday, Arias said talks will resume Saturday after two rounds of earlier negotiations failed to produce a breakthrough.

Arias also urged Zelaya to "be patient."

"I understand the desire of President Zelaya to return and reinstate himself as president of the Honduras people as soon as possible, but my experience tells me that one has to be a little patient," said Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending Central America's wars. "It's not easy to get results in 24 hours."

On Monday, Zelaya announced that if the interim government does not agree to reinstate him at the next round of negotiations, "the mediation effort will be considered failed and other measures will be taken." He did not say what those measures would be.

"I will return. I will return," Zelaya insisted Tuesday.

At the swearing-in ceremony for a new foreign minister Monday, interim President Roberto Micheletti said his delegates are "ready for another meeting."

Micheletti's administration has insisted that Zelaya was ousted legally and has refused to bend on reinstating him despite international condemnation of the coup, including that of the United States.

Washington has clearly played an influential role in the negotiations: It was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who invited Arias to mediate.

On Tuesday, thousands of Zelaya supporters marched from a university to the U.S. Embassy to demand Washington do more to force the interim government to back down.

"Hondurans are not dumb. Nothing moves an inch here without the approval of the U.S. Embassy," said demonstrator Amilcar Espinosa.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday everyone should trust Arias.

"We think that all parties in the talks should give this process some time. Don't set any artificial deadlines. Don't say, 'If X doesn't happen by a certain time, then the talks are dead,'" he said. "We have to give the process a chance and support what President Arias is doing."

He added that the United States is calling "on all parties, particularly President Zelaya and the de facto regime, to work together and come to a peaceful resolution that restores the democratic order," which would mean "the restoration of the democratically elected president."

Honduras' Supreme Court, Congress and military say they legally removed Zelaya for violating the constitution. They accuse him of trying to extend his time in office. Zelaya denies that, saying he merely wanted to reform the constitution to make it better serve the poor.

Zelaya accused Micheletti's government of using the talks "as a means to distract attention" from repression in Honduras, where protests for and against Zelaya's return have filled the streets, though they have waned in recent days.

Members of Micheletti's administration did not respond to Zelaya's comments.

Zelaya and Micheletti, the congressional president who was sworn in to serve out the final six months of Zelaya's term, met separately with Arias last week but refused to talk face to face.

Former Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez, a Micheletti representative at the talks, said his side had not ruled out the possibility of early elections as a way out of the crisis.

The interim government has been trying to restore life to normal this week in the impoverished Central American nation by lifting a nighttime curfew in place since the coup and successfully urging tens of thousands of Honduran teachers and students to return to class.

But the de facto administration has not been without its own conflicts.

Enrique Ortez – who was replaced as Micheletti's foreign minister Friday after he made insulting comments about President Barack Obama – resigned from his latest post, as interior minister, on Tuesday, after only a few days on the job.

Ortez caused a flap by repeatedly referring to Obama as "a little black man" and a "little black field hand." But he said Tuesday the comments were not the cause of his resignation, and said, "I respect President Obama. He's nice."

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Associated Press Writers Marianela Jimenez in Costa Rica and Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala contributed to this report.

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