Ortega says Honduras may try to provoke Nicaragua


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega claimed Honduras' coup-installed government might try to provoke a border military incident "to distract attention" from international efforts to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Ortega cited no evidence in making the claims, which come as Honduras' interim leader dampened hopes for a negotiated solution to the country's crisis, capping days of mixed signals by saying firmly that there's no way the ousted president can return to power.

"There is a danger that, to try to distract attention from the internal conflict they themselves created, they might organize a group of people with military training to attack a Honduran army position, for that to serve as a pretext for a retaliation against Nicaragua," Ortega said in a speech in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital.

Ortega, who has been hosting Zelaya and a few hundred of his supporters camped out near the Honduran border, did not offer details on when such a provocation might occur.

"But they shouldn't think they would have a cakewalk in Nicaragua," said Ortega.

The two countries' border was the scene of much of the fighting in the 1980s Contra war, in which U.S.-backed rebels fought Ortega's Sandinista government, and Ortega noted "we are not talking about an army that doesn't have a history of aggression against Nicaragua."

Ortega said his country "is preparing for war because we want peace."

Marking a tougher stance, riot police fired tear gas and arrested supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya who blocked a main artery leading into the Honduran capital Friday. Interim President Roberto Micheletti said his government would no longer tolerate street blockades that regularly snarl traffic in Tegucigalpa and other cities.

Micheletti's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it "reserves the right" to cancel visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel in Honduras, in retaliation for Washington's decision this week to revoke the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials. However the government did not take any immediate steps against U.S. diplomats.

Zelaya's return has been a key demand of crisis mediator and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who also has proposed amnesty for the coup plotters and other measures as part of a compromise deal.

But on Friday, a judge in Honduras issued yet another set of arrest warrants against Zelaya and three other former officials for alleged falsification of public records, fraud and abuse of authority. The charges are related to the alleged misappropriation of $2 million in government funds to pay for ads by Zelaya's administration in January.

The interim government previously announced Zelaya faces charges of treason, usurping the powers of other branches of government, abuse of authority and trying to undermine Honduras' system of government.

Zelaya told a television station in Managua, Nicaragua on Friday that "either they reverse the coup, or there will be generalized violence," although he later told Mexico's Radio Formula that he wanted to avoid any bloodshed.

Zelaya also announced plans to travel next week to Mexico, where the government confirmed he will meet with President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday.

Micheletti, installed by Congress after Zelaya was forcibly flown out of the country on June 28, has sent mixed signals throughout the week on whether he might permit Zelaya's return as part of a deal. On Thursday, a former government official who has been in close contact with Micheletti told The Associated Press that the leader was open to compromising on the issue.

But later the same day, Micheletti denied telling Arias he would soften his stance, saying he was "a man of character who maintains his positions."

Zelaya can return to Honduras only to face trial, Micheletti said. "Under no circumstances will we let him take possession of the government."

Arias said Micheletti had asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations. He added that he was considering the proposal, and that Zelaya's return to power would be part of any talks.

Arias said the envoy would have to meet with several sectors, "especially businessmen ... who have been very reluctant to consider the possibility that Zelaya be reinstated."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that Washington holds out hopes for a negotiated solution despite Micheletti's remarks.

"We continue to believe that the agreement or the points that President Arias has put forward provides the best opportunity to resolve the situation," Crowley said. "And we encourage both the de facto regime and President Zelaya to accept the terms."

Further complicating matters, Honduras' Congress put off until Monday consideration of a bill granting both sides amnesty from prosecution — an important part of Arias' plan. Congress had originally been scheduled to take up the matter this week.

The interim government has long said it hopes to resist international pressure until November elections, which it hopes will weaken calls to restore Zelaya.

Zelaya supporters are doing their best to see that doesn't happen: Protesters who want him reinstated blocked the main highway leading out of Tegucigalpa on Friday, coming under tear gas fire from riot police for the second time in two days.

At least one person was injured and several were arrested, police spokesman Daniel Molina said. At least 25 were injured and 88 were arrested in clashes Thursday.

"We will not allow any more disturbances," Micheletti said. "We are going to bring order to Honduras."

Thousands more Zelaya supporters marched peacefully elsewhere in Tegucigalpa, led by his wife, Xiomara Castro, who returned to the capital after military blockades prevented her from joining her husband in a Nicaraguan town near the border.

"The coup leaders are desperate, and force is the only recourse they have left, which we will not accept or allow because we believe in peace and liberty," Castro said. "Those are our weapons."

Later Friday, the Micheletti government lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew for most of the country. In effect almost continuously since the June 28 coup, the curfew was still in place along the border with Nicaragua where many Zelaya supporters have gathered.

The United States has suspended millions of dollars in military and development aid to Honduras to protest Zelaya's ouster. It stepped up the pressure this week, revoking the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials and warning it was reviewing the visas of all officials in the interim government.

Zelaya adviser Milton Jimenez said a proposal would be floated in the Organization of American States for other countries to extend visa cancellations to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.

Before his ouster, Zelaya had been trying to organize a referendum to gauge popular support for a constitutional overhaul, defying court orders declaring the vote illegal. Opponents say he was trying to extend his presidential term, which ends Jan. 27, but Zelaya denies any such intentions.