By BEN FOX, AP, Google News, Oct. 9, 2009
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Police fired tear gas and a water cannon Friday at protesters outside a hotel where talks on behalf of rival claimants to the Honduran presidency showed little sign of progress.
Six negotiators — three each for ousted President Manuel Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti — met for a second day after a diplomatic mission sponsored by the Organization of American States brought them together.
The talks were held in private. Pro-Zelaya protest leader Juan Barahona, one of the six negotiators, told The Associated Press on Friday that no progress had been made on the central issue — the return of Zelaya to office to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January.
Zelaya remained holed up with dozens of supporters in the Brazilian Embassy after sneaking back into Honduras.
Outside the Clarion Hotel, approximately 200 protesters demanding the Zelaya's reinstatement fled and then regrouped several times as police fired volleys of tear gas canisters from a line of dozens of officers in riot gear blocking the entrance of the hotel. Police finally chased off the demonstrators with a water cannon mounted on an armored vehicle.
There were no arrests and apparently no major injuries, though many people rubbed their eyes or cried from the acrid smoke.
"Ow, ow, ow, it's burning my eyes and my skin," 54-year-old protester Rosauro Garcia said, tears streaming down her cheeks from the gas and her shirt soaked with water from the cannon.
Garcia, a coordinator at a government office that provides assistance to rural communities, joined the protest during her lunch break to show her support for the return of Zelaya, who was forced into exile June 28 after he tried to hold a referendum on changing the constitution in defiance of a Supreme Court order ruling the ballot illegal.
"I came because it's not right what has happened to us," she said. "The president we elected was taken away."
Natalie Roque came equipped with a mask to cover her nose and mouth.
"The gases hurt but we've grown used to it after 104 days of violent repression," said the 26-year-old.
Roque, a researcher who says she was fired from her job at a government library for criticizing the interim government, insisted the demonstration was intended to be peaceful and there was no need for police to use force.
Governments throughout the world have called for the restoration of Zelaya in time to prepare for a Nov. 29 presidential election scheduled before he was ousted with the support of much of the ruling elite, including his own political party.
Honduras has experienced near daily protests since the military-backed coup. The U.S. and other nations have suspended foreign aid and imposed diplomatic isolation on the interim administration.
Micheletti has been unwilling to allow Zelaya's return and wants to go ahead with the election without him. The interim government and its supporters insist Zelaya was a corrupt and inept leader and they had a right to remove him.
They charge that Zelaya hoped to amend the constitution to repeal its one-term limit for presidents — a charge he has denied.