'Testing waters'

Pressed for details by Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman shortly after, however, Micheletti said congress would have to decide on the early polls and Zelaya could not sit in the president's seat again because it would go against Honduran law.

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The mixed signals indicate that the interim government is trying to test the waters to find some sort of accommodation with the international community, our Latin American editor said.

"The only thing that's clear is that this interim government seems desperate to try to reverse its international isolation, but at the same time it seems to feel that it has enough local support to resist that international pressure," she added.

The announcement and subsequent apparent U-turn come a day after the Organisation of American States (OAS) warned Honduras of economic sanctions if Zelaya were not returned to office within 72 hours.

Al Jazeera's Marianna Sanchez, reporting from Tegucigalpa, said the OAS appeared to have no plans to negotiate with the interim government on the issue of Zelaya's full reinstatement.

Regional warning

The OAS has threatened to expel Honduras from the regional grouping if it fails to meet the Saturday deadline.

Opponents and supporters held equally large rallies on Thursday [AFP]
Jose Miguel Insulza, the OAS secretary general, is scheduled to visit Honduras on Friday.

"We hope the coup leaders recognise the damage they are doing to the country and the world and allow the return of President Zelaya," Insulza told the Reuters news agency in Guyana.

At a news conference in Panama City, Zelaya urged his supporters to keep demonstrating.

"I call on the people to keep up the banners. The street is ours. They've taken the institutions away from us, but the street belongs to the people," he said.

Thousands of Zelaya supporters staged their largest demonstration since Sunday's coup as they marched from a military base to a UN office.

Police briefly used tear gas, but there were no reports of injuries or arrests.

An equal number of Micheletti backers marched in San Pedro Sula, the country's second largest city.

Police scuffled with Zelaya supporters in that northern city, leaving about a dozen with minor injuries.

Police chief Leonel Sauceda told the Associated Press that 78 people were arrested for vandalism, all of them Zelaya supporters, and that a Salvadoran photographer was briefly detained.