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NY Times reports on Honduras dictatorship closing of democratic radio stations

Honduras Shuts Down 2 News Outlets

By ELISABETH MALKIN
NY Times 9-28-09

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Masked police agents were perched from the windows of a television station early Monday, and soldiers formed a barricade around the headquarters of a radio station here after the de facto government shut them down indefinitely and restricted civil liberties in advance of an expected march in support of the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya.

The other government measures, announced late Sunday, prohibit unauthorized public meetings and allow the police to arrest anyone deemed to be a threat.

Mr. Zelaya’s supporters were expected to march on Monday despite the order.

The two news outlets, Channel 36 and Radio Globo, had regularly broadcast calls from Mr. Zelaya. He is now holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy, where he took refuge a week ago after secretly slipping back into Honduras. A police spokesman, Orlin Cerrato, said that the two stations had “incited insurrection” and that the shutdown was indefinite.

The restrictions are to be in effect for 45 days, expiring just two weeks before Hondurans go to the polls to elect a new president. The elections were scheduled before the June 28 coup that removed Mr. Zelaya, and the de facto government holds that they will bring an end to the political crisis.

But the United States and other governments have suggested that they may not recognize the vote. The de facto government has threatened to shut down the Brazilian Embassy, giving Brazil a 10-day deadline to decide whether to grant Mr. Zelaya political asylum or hand him over for trial on charges that include treason and abuse of authority.

On Sunday, the de facto government expelled four diplomats from the Organization of American States, a move the secretary general of the O.A.S. called “incomprehensible.”

The diplomats were members of an advance team planning a visit of foreign ministers from member countries to try to negotiate an end to the political crisis here. The organization had been invited by the de facto government to hold talks here, then disinvited, and invited again before being turned back at the airport on Sunday.

The organization’s permanent council is meeting Monday morning to discuss the situation.

Carlos López Contreras, the foreign minister of the de facto government, said Sunday that the group had arrived before the government said it could. “They fell on us by surprise,” he said.

A fifth member of the O.A.S. team, John Biehl of Chile, was allowed to stay, Mr. López said, because he was an important player in the Honduran crisis mediation in Costa Rica.

The government’s actions on Sunday, ostensibly aimed at keeping its grip on power, seemed to highlight its increasing isolation as the interim president, Roberto Micheletti, appears to lurch between hard-line stances and offers to negotiate.

The Brazilian government brushed off the threat against its embassy.

“Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup-mongers,” President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told reporters on Sunday at a meeting in Venezuela. He had previously said that Mr. Zelaya could remain in the embassy as long as was necessary.

The Micheletti government also seemed to be moving toward breaking relations with Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. In a statement on Saturday, it said that ambassadors from those countries were not welcome back unless those countries recognized its representatives.

Mr. Zelaya has been living at the Brazilian Embassy with about 65 family members, supporters and journalists since he secretly returned to Honduras last Monday.

Mr. Micheletti has said that Honduran troops, which have cut off the area around the embassy, will not raid the compound.

Mr. Zelaya’s stance has also been erratic. His cellphone calls, broadcast on sympathetic stations, swing between calls for peaceful protest and cries like, “Restitution or death!”


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company