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Zelaya's future in balance after 'no' vote

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya faces an uncertain future after a Congress vote ruled out his reinstatement for the period before president-elect Porfirio Lobo is sworn in for a term starting in January.

Zelaya's interim return to power was advocated by international mediators as a way of lending last Sunday's presidential election a format that foreign governments would accept -- a legitimacy of sorts after Zelaya was toppled June 28.

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But the compromise effort was thwarted by the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, who replaced Zelaya and went ahead with organizing the election despite warnings it could be seen as illegal outside Honduras.

Now both Zelaya and Micheletti are leaving the scene and Lobo is clearly in charge. While Micheletti recedes voluntarily into the background, his mission accomplished, Zelaya has hard choices to make. He has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since he re-entered Honduras in September, while his support among former aides and loyalists dwindles.

Analysts said the scenario most discussed was whether Zelaya would stay in Honduras, to face the aftermath of a humiliating drawdown of his campaign, or prefer to move to a more hospitable place such as Brazil.

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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva backed Zelaya through every stage of the campaign to have him restored to the presidency.

The pro-Zelaya campaign in Honduras turned violent from time to time, leading to numerous arrests. The fate of those detained while protesting in support of Zelaya is not clear yet, but pro-Lobo analysts said the new president had announced his wish for reconciliation and might release many of the detainees.

The congressional vote Wednesday was part of a deal brokered by the United States and the Organization of American States in an attempt to defuse the crisis.

A majority of the 126 members of Congress in session voted against Zelaya's reinstatement before the start of Lobo's presidency just to fulfill a technical requirement.

Although the United States recognized the results and was backed by Panama, Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia, Argentina and Brazil discounted recognition, arguing the poll was stage-managed by Micheletti's de facto government.

One likely outcome, analysts said, would be a period of attrition, marked by further recrimination. However, because there has been no suggestion of ballot rigging and Logo did actually win the majority of the vote, analysts said, the Honduran situation simply needs a cooling-off period.

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An indication of this already happening was the EU reaction. The EU expressed regret that due process -- an election supervised by incumbent Zelaya -- had not been followed but called the election "a significant step forward in solving the crisis in Honduras." Both the Obama administration and the EU have called for further talks to streamline differences.

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