Honduran Congress votes against Zelaya's return

Wed Dec 2, 2009 11:17pm EST
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By Anahi Rama and Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup.

Congress was deciding Zelaya's fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country's de facto leaders who took power after the coup. The agreement left it up to Congress to decide if Zelaya could return to the presidency until the end of his term in January.

The United States was hoping for Zelaya's reinstatement but Honduran lawmakers resisted international pressure, with 111 of the 125 members in session voting against Zelaya's return. Only 14 backed him in a vote that finished late on Wednesday.

Hundreds of the toppled president's supporters protested outside the chamber.

"This decision ratifies a coup and condemns Honduras to continue living in illegality," Zelaya told the local Radio Globo station. Foreign lenders cut aid to the poor coffee- and textile- exporting country to punish the coup leaders.

Zelaya has been holed up inside the heavily guarded Brazilian Embassy since he slipped back into Honduras in September, with soldiers threatening to arrest him if he steps outside. The vote throws his future into question.

Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won a presidential election on Sunday, which was scheduled before the coup. The vote could allow Honduras to move on from the five-month crisis and focus on a new leader.

The United States quickly recognized the election results but said the vote was only one step toward restoring democracy.   Continued...

<p>Supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya gather outside the National Congress during a session to discuss his reinstatement, in Tegucigalpa December 2, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido</p>