Efforts to Create Honduran Unity Government Appear to Drag Past Deadline

Efforts to create a unity government aimed at ending Honduras' political standoff appeared to be dragging past Thursday's deadline, though representatives of the overthrown president and his rivals reported progress.

An accord forged last week with the help of U.S. diplomats gave the two sides until Thursday to install a government with supporters of both interim President Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed in a June 28 coup.

There is no deadline, however, for Congress to decide whether to reinstate Zelaya to the presidency. And at least one official has indicated that could be delayed until after the Nov. 29 presidential election, when voters will choose his successor.

The U.S.-brokered deal announced last week was widely seen as a breakthrough that would meet international demands for the leftist leader's return along with international recognition for the election, which is likely to result in a centrist or conservative taking office in January.

Most countries have said the election will not be valid if the leftist Zelaya is not back in office before it takes place.

Negotiators for the two sides said Thursday they were still mulling over possible candidates to compose the multiparty government.

"We are in the stage of reviewing names," said Arturo Corrales, who represents Micheletti. "It's going to be, I hope, a very productive effort to ensure the tranquility of the Honduran people."

Jorge Reina, who represents Zelaya, said the sides have made positive steps, but neither he nor Corrales said if Thursday's deadline would be met.

Zelaya, meanwhile, has asked President Barack Obama's administration why, after pressing for his reinstatement, it now says it will recognize the election even if he isn't returned to power first.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that Zelaya should be reinstated, but he said the goal now should be on implementing last week's deal.

"Our focus now is on implementing this process and creating an environment wherein Hondurans themselves can address the issue of restitution and resolve for themselves this Honduran problem," he said.

The pact left Zelaya's reinstatement in the hands of Congress, but the ousted president and others assumed that a behind-the-scenes arrangement meant Congress would to put him back in office.

Zelaya, who has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, since he sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21, will not be pushed aside, Reina said.

"The people of Honduras elected him and the coup has to be reversed posthaste," he said.

Hundreds of Zelaya supporters gathered outside Congress on Thursday to demand his reinstatement. The protesters say they will boycott the elections if Zelaya is not returned to power beforehand.