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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Honduran authorities organizing a presidential election in the midst of a political crisis insisted on Thursday they can hold a free and fair vote even if the elected incumbent is a refugee in a foreign embassy.
The three-member Supreme Electoral Tribunal, visiting Washington to tout the neutrality of the November 29 vote, said the ballot box is the best way to resolve the crisis caused by President Manuel Zelaya's ouster in a June coup.
But the United States, the European Union and Latin American governments have condemned the coup and are demanding that Zelaya be returned to power to finish his term.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has yet to decide whether it will recognise the election as legitimate if Zelaya is not restored before the vote.
Jose Saul Escobar, the electoral body's president, said he hoped there would be a political settlement between Zelaya and the de facto government that replaced him, but that Honduras needs to elect the next president due to take office in January to preserve democratic rule.
"The majority of Hondurans want the elections to go ahead to resolve the crisis," he said in Washington.
More than 118,000 poll workers have been trained to staff voting stations with U.S. funding, said David Andres Matamoros, one of the three Honduras electoral officials, who met with State Department officials on Wednesday.
"The government of the United States is following a two-track policy: they support the negotiation of a political deal, but are also backing the election process," he said.
Zelaya was exiled by soldiers on June 28 after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. His critics accuse him of violating the constitution by seeking support for re-election, a charge he denies.
Zelaya returned secretly a month ago and is holed up in the Brazilian embassy to avoid arrest. Negotiations have stalled over the de facto government's refusal to allow him to resume the presidency.
Washington suspended the visas of more senior figures in the de facto government on Wednesday to press for a settlement.
Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, said a political deal allowing Zelaya to return to office or back to political life in Honduras was the best option.
"But that does not mean this crisis has to go on for ever if there is no agreement," Hakim said. "Obviously, an election is a way to solve a crisis, though it's way second best."
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Kieran Murray)

Reuters