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Soldiers to combat looting on Honduran streets

The de-facto government in Honduras has moved to increase the military and police presence on the streets to halt looting.

world Updated: Sep 24, 2009 12:47 IST

The de-facto government in Honduras has moved to increase the military and police presence on the streets to halt looting.

Roberto Micheletti, the former Congress speaker designated to lead the country after the June 28 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, ordered the deployment Wednesday of the military to assist police on the streets after looting and vandalism earlier in the day in parts of Tegucigalpa.

Honduras has been in turmoil since Zelaya slipped back into the country and took refuge Monday in the Brazilian embassy in the capital.

The international community continues to recognize Zelaya as Honduras' president, and in support of the ousted leader, the European Union and Organization of American States (OAS) Wednesday said they would pull their ambassadors out of Honduras.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza made the announcement on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Meanwhile, in Tegucigalpa, several poor neighbourhoods looked like war zones, full of barricades and burning tyres.

The de-facto authorities appeared to have been surprised by the looting - in which several supermarkets and other stores were emptied - and moved to relax the curfew that had been in place since Monday, to enable residents to replenish supplies amid reports of scarcity in many homes.

Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Bogran said that supermarkets, banks, petrol stations and other retailers were permitted to open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Security Ministry spokesman Orlis Cerrato warned that "police will increase the level of force" against those violating the law, and those officers would have zero tolerance.

He blamed Zelaya supporters for allegedly provoking police to create "martyrs" for their cause.

Earlier, the de-facto government blamed Zelaya supporters for the looting although the movement in favour of the reinstatement of the democratically elected president denied any wrongdoing.

Zelaya told Costa Rican radio that if Micheletti "has some heart or some conscience left, let him seek first the country's peace and not his personal benefit".

"I have been doing everything by peaceful means, returning to the people who elected me and to the country where I was born," Zelaya said.

In a statement read Tuesday night by de-facto Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras on national television, Micheletti said he is prepared to talk to Zelaya.

"I am ready to talk with Mr Zelaya, as long as he explicitly recognises the elections authorized by our constitution and scheduled for November 29," Micheletti's statement said.

The election was scheduled before the coup, but both Zelaya and the international community refuse to recognise them as legitimate because they are being organised under what is seen as an illegitimate government.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that the UN was pulling its technical assistance for scheduled November Honduran elections in response to the political crisis.

Micheletti warned that Zelaya faced arrest as soon as he left the Brazilian embassy on pending criminal charges, including treason and abuse of authority.

"My offer to talk with Mr Zelaya cannot undo the arrest warrant of the Honduran Supreme Court against him nor the charges that he faces under our independent judicial system," Micheletti said. "My offer is to reach a political solution, but I cannot resolve his legal difficulties."

The de-facto government said its forces would not storm the embassy to remove Zelaya, who has described his stance as "reinstatement or death".