Honduras leader rejects US request that he quit

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Interim President Roberto Micheletti responded harshly Wednesday to U.S. suggestions that he resign before a new president takes office Jan 27.

Micheletti has been serving as president since a June coup deposed his longtime political rival, President Manuel Zelaya, who later took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa and remains there.

“The U.S. wants me to withdraw on Jan. 15. Washington should respect the sovereign decisions of our people,” Micheletti said, calling Washington’s diplomacy erratic.

U.S. State Department diplomat Craig Kelly is in Honduras attempting to reunite leaders in the bitterly divided Central American nation.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy said Kelly’s visit was aimed at “re-establishing the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras and promoting national reconciliation … and the rapid formation of a national unity government and the establishment of a truth commission” to investigate responsibilities in the June 28 coup.

“Kelly stressed the United States’ concern about the deterioration of (Honduras’) economic situation and the importance of normalizing relations with the international community,” the embassy added.

Micheletti’s interim government has said Zelaya faces arrest on various charges if he leaves the embassy under any terms other than an asylum arrangement in another country.

Supporters of Zelaya’s ouster say he was removed because he ignored Supreme Court orders to shelve plans for a referendum on changing the constitution. Zelaya says he was illegally removed by opponents of his efforts to bring more equality to this poor Central American nation.

President-elect Porfirio Lobo has hinted he may be more conciliatory than Micheletti. Lobo says he has invited to his inauguration Latin American leaders, including Zelaya’s leftist allies, Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Chavez has lobbied for Zelaya’s return to office and urged the international community not to recognize results of the November election won by Lobo.

“If they don’t want to come, oh well,” Lobo said. “But we’ve invited them.”

Meanwhile, Micheletti says he is concerned that Chavez will eventually retaliate against him. “I know I should take precautions because Chavez has the capacity to send assassins to kill me.”

Chavez initially put his military on alert after the coup in Honduras and vowed to do whatever necessary to restore Zelaya to power.