Honduran presidential hopefuls to meet mediator

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The international community's chief mediator in the Honduran political crisis said Monday he will meet with the country's presidential candidates to emphasize that upcoming elections will not be recognized if held under the government installed by a coup.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said he will meet Wednesday with at least four of the six candidates, including the top two contenders, in an effort to gain their support for restoring ousted President Manuel Zelaya before the Nov. 29 ballot.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been leading U.S.-backed efforts to restore Zelaya, said he will make clear that the world will not recognize the outcome of the election unless Zelaya is reinstated before then.

"The idea is to speak with them frankly," Arias said at a news conference in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, where the meeting will take place. "What good is there for a presidential hopeful in Honduras to win the elections if his future government will not be recognized by the international community and the sanctions will continue or even increase?"

Arias said he hoped to persuade the candidates to back a compromise that he proposed weeks ago, which would return Zelaya to the presidency with limited powers until his constitutional term ends in January.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has rejected the plan despite mounting international pressure since soldiers forced Zelaya into exile June 28 in a dispute over the ousted leader's efforts to change Honduras' constitution.

The United States and many Latin American countries have warned they will not recognize the November election unless Zelaya is put back in office. Last week, Washington increased the pressure by revoking the U.S. visas of Micheletti and 17 other Honduran officials.

Arias spoke after meeting with Craig Kelly, the No. 2 official at the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Kelly said he supported the meeting with the presidential candidates and reiterated the U.S. view that the "best way to achieve international recognition for the elections" is for Honduras to accept Arias' proposed compromise.

On Monday, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico refused to accept the participation of the Honduran ambassador at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva because he is not from Zelaya's government.

Belgium Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen, who presides at the U.N. rights council, said he would seek to clarify whether Urbizo is allowed to represent Honduras in the council. Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said that "no decision has been taken."

Micheletti insists the November presidential election, which had been scheduled before the coup, will show the world that democracy remains intact in Honduras.

The two main candidates, including Elvin Santos of Zelaya's Liberal Party, have so far publicly opposed returning the deposed president to power.

Zelaya angered the country's military leadership, Congress and his own party by ignoring court orders to cancel a referendum that would have asked voters if they favored calling a special assembly to change the constitution.

Zelaya's opponents say he hoped to extend his rule by abolishing a constitutional ban on presidential re-election. Zelaya denies that was his goal.

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