TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya gave U.S.-backed talks in Costa Rica until the end of Saturday to restore him to office, warning he would return to his country with or without an agreement.
Zelaya said he would return to Honduras in secret if no deal is reached by midnight and indicated that he would reject any power-sharing agreement, a proposal to be discussed during Saturday's talks.
He did not say what other steps he would take after the deadline, but his tough ultimatum on the eve of negotiations suggested there would be little room for compromise in a crisis that has became the latest test for democracy in Latin America.
Zelaya was toppled by June 28 military-backed coup and flown out of the country in his night clothes. The world has rallied around Zelaya to demand his reinstatement, but Honduras' interim leaders insist the coup was justified because Zelaya violated the constitution by pushing a referendum the Supreme Court had deemed illegal.
Earlier this week, Zelaya said Hondurans have a constitutional right to launch an insurrection against an illegitimate government. His foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, has said that if negotiations fail, Zelaya would return to Honduras to install a parallel government "to direct what I will call the final battle."
"Tomorrow at midnight is the deadline for the rebel government to abide by the resolutions of the U.N. and the OAS to restore me to power," Zelaya said Friday night at a news conference at the Honduran Embassy in Nicaragua, referring to demands by the United Nations and the Organization of American States that he be restored to the presidency. "If at that time, there is no resolution to that end, I will consider the negotiations in Costa Rica a failure."
The interim government of Roberto Micheletti has vowed to arrest Zelaya if he returns to Honduras. The military thwarted his last attempt to fly home by sending vehicles to block the runway, preventing his plane from landing in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
"I am going back to Honduras but I am not going to give you the date, hour or place, or say if I'm going to enter through land, air or sea," Zelaya said.
Zelaya also suggested he would reject a power-sharing deal in which he could return to serve out the remaining months of his term, but with limited powers. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the mediator, indicated the proposal would dominate talks. "I cannot accept a reward for the coup leaders because that would be an aberration," Zelaya said.
Zelaya's allies say the weekend talks may be the last chance to avert a clash, perhaps even civil war in the impoverished Central American country. Zelaya supporters have staged near daily protests demanding his return, including about 2,000 who blocked two highways connecting Tegucigalpa to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts for several hours Friday.
Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping to end Central America's wars, had appeared optimistic about a resolution earlier Friday, saying both camps have "softened, and I think we are going to find more flexibility." In the first round of talks the two sides agreed only to meet again.
Arias has presented a series of possible compromises to both camps, including the power-sharing deal and a possible amnesty for Zelaya.
The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya before the coup, ruling his effort to hold a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly was illegal. The military decided to send him into exile instead — a move that military lawyers themselves have called illegal but necessary.
Many Hondurans viewed the proposed referendum as an attempt by Zelaya to push for a socialist-leaning government similar to the one his ally Hugo Chavez has established in Venezuela.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Friday for nations to support the talks.
He also appeared to allude to remarks by Chavez, who has warned of the possibility of a civil war and said: "In the next few hours, Zelaya will enter Honduras and we'll see what the gorillas are going to do" about it.
"No country in the region should encourage any action that would potentially increase the risk of violence either in Honduras or in surrounding countries," said Crowley, speaking to reporters in Washington.
Micheletti has said Zelaya might try to sneak in by crossing Nicaragua's jungle-cloaked border with Honduras, but the ousted president apparently was still in Nicaragua's capital on Friday.
American Airlines temporarily suspended its two daily U.S. flights to the capital because of the political crisis, airline spokeswoman Berna Osorto said. Continental and Delta were continuing their flights.
Micheletti told Colombia's RCN Radio that his government is open to dialogue but argues that Zelaya committed crimes against "the economy, the citizenry and against the constitution" and cannot be allowed to return to power.
He accused Zelaya of "calling for bloodshed."
Micheletti said he is willing to move up the elections as a way out of the crisis. The congressional president, sworn in to replace Zelaya, also said he would resign "if Mr. Zelaya stops inciting a revolutionary movement in the country and stops trying to return here."
Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera, who under the constitution would be next in line for the presidency if Micheletti resigns, said amnesty for Zelaya could be considered as part of negotiations. But if Zelaya enters the country without amnesty, he should be immediately arrested, Rivera said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Zelaya's Sunday deadline for the coup leaders to back down falls on the 30th anniversary of Nicaragua's July 19, 1979, Sandinista revolution that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza.
Rumors abound that arms are once again crossing the countries' shared border, that Venezuelans and Nicaraguans are infiltrating groups in the country and that uprisings are being planned in two or three provinces, according to political analyst and columnist Juan Ramon Martinez.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called rumors of Nicaraguan infiltration "a total lie," and countered with reports that Honduran soldiers might try to disguise themselves as Nicaraguan troops to spark unrest.