Interim leader refuses to meet ousted president

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Honduras' interim leader said he won't meet face-to-face with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, but said Mr Zelaya could leave the foreign embassy where he is holed up if a country grants him political asylum.

President Roberto Micheletti's comments were yet another blow to hopes for a negotiated solution to the June 28 coup that booted Mr Zelaya from power.

"I am not going to talk with him at this time, but I have representatives talking with him," Mr Micheletti told The Associated Press in an interview at government headquarters.

"There is a man who was with him yesterday or last night, and he talked for a long time with him (Zelaya) and his friends, and the results are nil," Mr Micheletti said. "He (Zelaya) says 'restoration or death'."

Asked under what circumstances Mr Zelaya could leave the Brazilian Embassy where he took refuge after sneaking back into the country early this week, Mr Micheletti replied "either through political asylum or by obeying the courts".

Mr Micheletti insisted that if Mr Zelaya stays in the country, he must turn himself over to face charges of treason and abuse of authority for repeatedly ignoring court orders to drop plans for a referendum on rewriting the constitution - the issue that sparked the coup.

Mr Zelaya said he has no intention of leaving Honduras - or abandoning the office to which he was elected.

Mr Micheletti also referred to Zelaya supporters waging protests in the streets as "nothing more than a group of insurgents".

"They are nothing more than bums looking for an opportunity to steal," he said.

While talks have led nowhere, Mr Micheletti and others in his administration are betting the country can vote its way out of a coup, even as presidential candidates struggle to campaign amid nationwide curfews and political turmoil.

They argue that a fair presidential vote on November 29 will force the world to accept that Honduras remains a democracy.

"If the process is transparent and people turn out to the polls in large numbers, I guarantee that will make (whoever is elected) the legitimate leader - without a doubt," said Porfirio Lobo, the conservative National Party's candidate, after meeting with Mr Zelaya late on Thursday.

"Some of our international friends will recognise it right away, and others will do so with the passage of time."

Mr Zelaya - and many foreign governments, including the United States - say the election will not be legitimate unless he is first restored to power.

But he has stopped short of calling for a boycott and has even been meeting with candidates at the Brazilian Embassy.

Mr Lobo, who has a slight lead in recent polls, joined three other major party contenders to talk with Mr Zelaya on Thursday night to urge him to support the elections.

All six presidential candidates are still trudging ahead with their campaigns - at least as far as they can. It's not easy campaigning in the aftermath of a coup.

Unlike in past election seasons, there are no rallies before crowds of supporters waving party flags and blowing noisemakers. Campaign posters are quickly ripped down by one side or the other.

The leading nominees have limited their appearances to TV spots, news conferences and indoor events surrounded by security to avoid violence and work around the curfews that are imposed each time tensions spike.

And none of the major candidates talks about the biggest issue dividing Honduras: whether the coup was wrong and Mr Zelaya should be reinstated.