Final collapse of Honduras talks raises threat of new violence

Honduras's political foes are on a collision course after negotiations collapsed over control of the country and the exiled President Manuel Zelaya vowed to return home, despite warnings from the de facto government.

Mr Zelaya said resistance was being organised in Honduras to pave the way for his return this weekend and that nobody could stop him. The interim government installed after the 28 June military coup has threatened to arrest him if he returns and crack down on any protesters who stir trouble.

Talks to end the crisis broke down on Sunday when the interim government's delegation told the mediator, the Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias, that his proposal to reinstate Mr Zelaya was "unacceptable" and that he was meddling in Honduran affairs. The failure of negotiations between the two sides has raised fears of political violence in the impoverished Central American country.

"Insurrection and confrontation are not a good path to take, but I don't think we will avoid it unless the de facto government shows some flexibility," the chief of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said.

Mr Zelaya tried to return to Honduras earlier this month but soldiers blocked the runway and at least one protester was killed in clashes with the army. About 300 pro-Zelaya protesters marched peacefully towards Congress in the capital, Tegucigalpa, yesterday, and have called for a national strike on Thursday and Friday.

A police spokesman appealed to children and the elderly to stay away from protests planned for this week, warning that the security forces would "not be tolerant with anyone who acts like a terrorist in our country".

A sombre-faced Mr Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, fretted that the collapse of talks could lead to bloodshed and called on both sides to give him another 72 hours to try to solve the worst crisis in Central America since the end of the Cold War. "What is the alternative to dialogue? ... What happens if, tomorrow, a Honduran shoots at a soldier and then a soldier shoots his gun at an armed citizen?"

The interim President, Roberto Micheletti, appointed by Honduras's Congress after the coup but shunned by foreign governments, has refused to bow to demands that Mr Zelaya be allowed to return and finish his term.

Mr Zelaya was expelled from the textile and coffee exporting country in his pyjamas in the middle of the night and sent to Costa Rica. He had upset his political rivals by seeking to lift presidential term limits, and the army moved against him after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest.