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Honduran 'unity' cabinet collapses

An agreement to end a four-month political crisis in Honduras collapsed early yesterday after the two rival leaders failed to form a unity cabinet to heal the damage from a coup in June.

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya declared the week-old pact dead and called on Hondurans to boycott a presidential election this month because, in a surprise move, de facto leader Roberto Micheletti said he would form a new government without him.

The demise of a US-driven deal to end the crisis throws into question whether foreign governments will recognize the result of the Nov. 29 election and means any incoming government could inherit a chaotic political situation and be cut off from vital international aid.

The United States and the Organization of American States, or OAS, which had pushed the two sides into their agreement after months of delays, urged them to return to the table.

Zelaya and Micheletti had agreed to form a unity government by Thursday, but then they clashed over who would lead the cabinet until Congress decided whether to reinstate Zelaya.

"They need to stop making dire statements that this agreement is dead," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, adding Washington was disappointed with recent developments.

OAS head Jose Miguel Insulza deplored the breakdown but blamed the de facto government and said the elected president should be restored "without further subterfuges."

Zelaya, who was toppled and sent into exile in a June 28 coup, said he would not go back to the negotiating table.

"It's impossible. The thing is completely worn out and it makes no sense to continue," he told a Chilean radio station from the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has been holed up since sneaking back into Honduras in September.

South American leaders demanded Zelaya's restitution and Brazil condemned the de facto government's "delay tactics". It also said Zelaya was welcome to stay in the embassy, where Honduran soldiers and military vehicles are deployed outside.

Inside, Zelaya called for peaceful protests by his supporters around the country and told his long-faced supporters "only God knows what happens next."