Deal could see return of ousted Honduras leader

The de facto leader of Honduras says he is ready to sign a deal that could see the return of the ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

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TEGUCIGALPA // Honduran de facto leader Roberto Micheletti has said he is ready to sign a deal to resolve the country's political crisis that could include a return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya to power. The apparent breakthrough followed pressure from senior US officials who were in Honduras for a last-ditch effort to end a crisis that erupted when the leftist Zelaya was toppled and sent into exile in a June 28 coup.

"I have authorised my negotiating team to sign a deal that marks the beginning of the end of the country's political situation," Mr Micheletti, who took over as de facto leader after the coup, told a news conference last night. "With regard to the most contentious subject in the deal, the possible restitution of Zelaya to the presidency" would be included, he said. Mr Zelaya had earlier in the day appealed for calm after some of his supporters were hurt in protests.

After spending almost three months in exile, Zelaya crept back into Honduras last month and has since been holed up in the Brazilian embassy, surrounded by troops. A team led by US assistant secretary of state Tom Shannon and Dan Restrepo, Washington's special assistant for western hemisphere affairs, sat in on talks earlier in the day and said that time was running out to reach a deal. The coffee-producing Central American country has been diplomatically isolated since Zelaya was woken at dawn by soldiers and flown to exile on a military plane.

He had angered many in Honduras by becoming an ally of socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Critics also alleged he was seeking backing to extend presidential term limits, a claim he denies. * Reuters