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Fears of Violence in Honduras as Talks Stall

Fears of violence rose in Honduras Monday after weekend crisis talks hit deadlock, and supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya vowed protests ahead of his planned return this week.

"Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya answers a phone call during a news conference in Managua, July 19, 2009. Fears of violence rose in Honduras Monday after weekend crisis talks hit deadlock, and supporters of Zelaya vowed protests ahead of his planned return this week."

Zelaya -- ousted and exiled on June 28 by the military in a move backed by the country's courts and Congress -- would return to Honduras on Friday, the head of his Liberal Party told AFP.

Crisis mediator and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias warned late Sunday the impoverished Central American country was on the brink of civil war and pleaded for talks to resume after a 72-hour break.

Representatives of the de facto rulers however rejected a proposal by Arias, the Costa Rican president, that Zelaya return as president in charge of a "reconciliation" government.

Zelaya Monday agreed there should be more talks but still planned to return to Honduras on Friday, according to Carlos Eduardo Reyna, head of the Liberal Party to which both Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti belong.

"President Zelaya has accepted the 72 hours and announced his return for July 24," Reyna told AFP.

"Honduran soldiers holding sticks are deployed at the Democracy Square in the Presidential Palace on July 19, 2009 in Tegucigalpa. Fears of violence rose in Honduras Monday after weekend crisis talks hit deadlock, and supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya vowed protests ahead of his planned return this week."

The crisis mediation had not collapsed, insisted Jose Castillo, the Costa Rican ambassador to the Organization of American States, during an extraordinary meeting of the body on the crisis in Washington.

"The mediation is following its course, without a guarantee of success, but we are very near the end," Castillo said.

Neither Zelaya nor acting president Micheletti were in Costa Rica for the talks.

Many Honduran lawmakers, judges and military leaders believe Zelaya triggered the country's crisis by pushing ahead with a June 28 referendum, without congressional approval, on changing the constitution.

Micheletti's government has promised to arrest Zelaya if he returns to Honduras and prosecute him for treason and 17 other charges.

"Members of the Honduran Liberal Party (PL) protest in support of Honduran ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Santa Barbara departament, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa on July 19, 2009. Fears of violence rose in Honduras Monday after weekend crisis talks hit deadlock, and supporters of Zelaya vowed protests ahead of his planned return this week."

Zelaya's supporters in Honduras meanwhile planned to intensify their protests pressing for his reinstatement. They called a strike for Thursday and Friday.

The interim leaders threatened to crack down on any protesters who provoke trouble in the increasingly polarized nation.

International pressure increased Monday as the European Union suspended 65.5 million euros (93 million dollars) in aid.

"In view of the circumstances, I have taken the difficult decision to suspend all budgetary support payments," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

The interim leaders in Honduras have not been recognized by any country, while the United States, the United Nations and the Organization of American States have stood behind Zelaya as the legitimate president.

"Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya walks into the embassy of Honduras in Nicaragua before a news conference in Managua, July 19, 2009. Fears of violence rose in Honduras Monday after weekend crisis talks hit deadlock, and supporters of Zelaya vowed protests ahead of his planned return this week."

Washington has frozen military aid to the de facto government, but it has also warned Zelaya against rash moves that might jeopardize dialogue.

A spectacular and unsuccessful return attempt by Zelaya on July 5 on a plane borrowed from his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, sparked clashes between soldiers and thousands of his supporters which left at least one dead and dozens injured.

Many feared further violence if Zelaya attempted another return.

"We have started organizing internal resistance for my return to the country," Zelaya said in Nicaragua late Sunday.

The U.S State Department meanwhile urged more energetic efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.

"This weekend's talks produced significant progress, and created a foundation for a possible resolution," said acting U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood on Sunday.

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