TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Two rival factions fighting for control of Honduras have begun talking days before a meeting that many hope will end a political crisis sparked by Central America's first coup in more than a decade.
Interim President Roberto Micheletti told reporters that a dialogue is "beginning" between his supporters and those of President Manuel Zelaya, who was forced from office on June 28 by a military-backed coup and is now holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
"We are having talks with different sectors officially, with people from Mr. Zelaya's side and with others," Micheletti said Friday outside the presidential palace, hours after meeting with a delegation of four Republican members of the U.S. Congress.
Zelaya supporters expressed skepticism about Micheletti's willingness to compromise.
"We do not believe in this coup government because they say one thing and do another," said Juan Barahona, who led a protest of about 200 people Saturday at a small, unpaved square in Pedegral, a working-class neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. "The resistance is going to be in the streets fighting permanently against this coup regime. It's our right."
No security forces were present at the protest, despite an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than 20 people.
A delegation from the Organization of American States, which has taken the lead in pushing for a negotiated resolution that restores Zelaya to power, was in the country ahead of a visit by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza scheduled for Wednesday.
Micheletti said he had spoken to Insulza in recent days and that while no agreement was reached, it was a sign of progress and that "peace is coming back to our country."
John Biehl, an OAS special envoy, said both sides have already expressed a willingness to start talks next week.
"There will be a call next week for dialogue between the acting government and the other side and it will be accepted. That has already been agreed," Biehl told reporters.
Nations around the globe have condemned Zelaya's ouster and many, including the United States and the European Union, have suspended aid to Honduras. Diplomats have insisted that elections scheduled for Nov. 29 will not be legitimate if the president isn't restored before then.
Zelaya's critics justify his ouster as a legitimate reaction to his attempt to hold a constitutional referendum that his opponents believed was an attempt to undo a prohibition on a second term. Zelaya denies that was his intention.
The ousted president, who has been in the Brazilian Embassy since Sept. 21 after sneaking back into the country from exile, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday that he still supports a constitutional referendum — but it should be in 2010, after his term has expired.
The U.S. Republican legislators said Micheletti promised that by Monday he would lift the controversial emergency decree, which limits civil liberties, including freedom of the press and assembly.
Wesley Denton, a spokesman for South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, said they received the assurance in a private meeting with Micheletti at the presidential palace.
The decree shuttered two broadcasters that criticized the coup — although one, Radio Globo, was transmitting over the Internet after police raided its offices and confiscated equipment. The decree was imposed Sunday following the return of Zelaya.
Many conservative American politicians see Micheletti as a bulwark against the expansion of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist programs in Latin America. Zelaya is an ally of Chavez.