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Honduras' Interim Leader Blames Chavez

Honduras' interim leader accused Venezuela's Hugo Chavez of instigating his nation's crisis and lawmakers tightened a curfew aimed at stemming unrest, as coup leaders showed few signs of bending to international pressure to restore the exiled president.

Roberto Micheletti, who was named by Congress to replace President Manuel Zelaya after his ouster, has fought a largely losing battle to win international support for his government. The Organization of American States has given him until Saturday to step aside before Honduras is suspended from the group. The Obama administration halted joint military operations, and France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Chile and Colombia all recalled their ambassadors Wednesday.

The fiercest criticism has come from Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela who has called for Hondurans to rise up against the "guerilla government" and vowed to do everything possible to overthrow it and restore his leftist ally, Zelaya.

Honduras' interim leader struck back at this foreign critics Wednesday, accusing Chavez of exacerbating Honduras' problems.

"Chavez has had a clear and definite intervention in the situation that Honduras is currently living through," Micheletti told reporters.

On Sunday, the day of the coup, Micheletti suggested Zelaya's support for Chavez, and vice versa, was at the center of the problem. Micheletti said then that Zelaya would be welcome to return to Honduras as a private citizen on one condition: "Without the support of Mr. Hugo Chavez, we would be happy to take him back with open arms."

Honduras' opposition has accused Zelaya of moving sharply to the left since taking office, allying himself with Venezuela and Cuba, accepting oil on preferential terms from Chavez and bringing Honduras into the regional leftist ALBA trade alliance.

Chavez and Zelaya, in turn, have accused right-wing forces in Honduras of toppling him, and Chavez has denounced the allegations that he is stoking the flames in Honduras.

Thousands of Hondurans on both sides of the fight mobilized Wednesday, with a large pro-Zelaya march in the capital and pro-Micheletti demonstrations held in other cities. No violence was reported.

The largest pro-Micheletti rally was in Choluteca, 75 miles south of the capital, where demonstrators wore the blue and white of the Honduran flag.

Seeking to stem internal unrest, Congress approved a bill Wednesday that toughens a nighttime curfew in place since the coup. The law gives authorities the power to conduct warrantless arrests and removes constitutional rights to assembly and movement during the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Soldiers stormed Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile Sunday after he insisted on trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they want to change the constitution. The Supreme Court, Congress - which is led by Zelaya's own party - and the military all deemed his planned ballot illegal. Zelaya backed down Tuesday, saying he would no longer push for constitutional changes.

Zelaya had said he would try to return home Thursday accompanied by the presidents of Ecuador and Argentina and the heads of the OAS and U.N. General Assembly, but later announced that he was delaying the move until the weekend to give the OAS time to seek a negotiated solution.

The new government was on a long-shot diplomatic offensive, ordering home Honduras' pro-Zelaya ambassadors to the U.S., the United Nations and the OAS.

The U.N. ambassador, Jorge Arturo Reyna, refused, saying he took orders only from Zelaya. But Honduras' ambassador to Washington returned home and said he was recognizing Micheletti's government. "This is not a coup d'etat, but rather a process in which a judicial order has been carried out," envoy Roberto Flores Bermudez said.

The ambassador to the OAS could not be located for comment.

The Obama administration also sided clearly with Zelaya, despite criticism from Republicans that this puts it on the same side as Chavez and the Castros in Cuba. Micheletti told The Associated Press that he has had no contact with any U.S. official since the coup.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said joint U.S.-Honduran military operations were on hold "as we assess that situation." The U.S. has close relations with Honduras' military and has some 800 personnel at an air base north of the Honduran capital used primarily for anti-drug operations.

Many pro-Zelaya protesters said authorities were trying to prevent the ousted leader's supporters from converging on the capital for demonstrations. Natalie O'Hara said her caravan was stopped at five military checkpoints on its way into Tegucigalpa. She said they were let through only because they hid their signs and told soldiers they were for Micheletti.

Protesters lined up outside a Burger King that their comrades had ransacked in previous days because the franchise is owned by Micheletti supporters. Some sat in the frames of smashed windows, moving the bandannas covering their mouths to eat their hamburgers and fries.

There were heavy police and army patrols throughout Honduras' main cities and highways, and some hospitals and schools were closed due to walkouts by pro-Zelaya teachers and health workers. But it was life as usual for most of the capital.