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Lula faces criticism in Brazil over Honduras role

September 30th, 2009

LulaBrazil’s government is facing rising criticism at home over its handling of the Honduran crisis as senior lawmakers accuse it of allowing the ousted president to use its embassy as a political platform.

Manuel Zelaya, who was toppled as Honduran president by a coup in June, has virtually taken over the Brazilian embassy with dozens of supporters and has given numerous interviews to foreign and domestic media.

His sudden return from exile a week ago triggered violent protests in the capital Tegucigalpa and placed Brazil at the center of the Honduran power struggle and an international diplomatic crisis.

Government and opposition legislators in Brazil’s Congress have urged President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to curtail Zelaya’s political engagement in the embassy.

“Zelaya’s political activities are unacceptable. They weaken Brazil’s position and international image,” Eduardo Azeredo, head of the Senate foreign relations committee, told Reuters.

Brazil should formally grant Zelaya political asylum, pull him out of the country and possibly bring him to Brazil, Azeredo said. Brazil would still be seen as defending a democratically-elected leader without being directly involved in the dispute, he said.

Former president and current Senate chief Jose Sarney, one of Lula’s most important allies, also criticized the government’s position.

“There’s a certain exaggeration in transforming the embassy into a campaign headquarters. This excess is not good for Brazil or Manuel Zelaya,” said Sarney, who said the embassy must abide by the rule of nonintervention in a country’s domestic affairs.

Honduras’ de facto government has given Brazil 10 days to grant Zelaya asylum and take him out of the country or hand him over for prosecution, but Lula says he will ignore the deadline.

Brazil’s major newspapers have run critical editorials and almost daily caricatures, mocking Lula’s perceived leniency with Zelaya.

Conservatives are upset that Brazil may have been put into this bind by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fellow left-wing leader and supposed Lula ally.

Chavez had been fiercely advocating Zelaya’s return and is rumored to have provided an airplane for the fellow leftist to fly to El Salvador for his overland return to Honduran.

A front-page caricature in Tuesday’s O Globo newspaper showed Lula, Chavez and Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim singing Zelaya a lullaby as he dozed under his signature cowboy hat, boots propped up on a chair in his embassy refuge.

In an editorial, O Globo said it was “deplorable that Brasilia allowed itself to be entangled in a Chavez trap.”

Folha de S.Paulo newspaper said in an editorial that Brazil had become too involved in Honduras and lost the ability to mediate there.

Amorim is scheduled to testify on the issue before the Senate foreign relations committee later on Tuesday. He said late on Monday that abandoning Zelaya would be a cowardly act.

By Raymond Colitt

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Anthony Boadle)

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